Aroldis Chapman

Making sense of Melancon and the contract that doesn't matter

Making sense of Melancon and the contract that doesn't matter

In a world in which there is Aroldis Chapman and teams without parades, the San Francisco Giants decided that Santiago Casilla wasn’t the answer, and Mark Melancon is.
 
In fairness, the Giants made the Casilla call in September after watching him work and his confidence shrivel like an orange in front of a space heater, but there were other reasons why the Giants cratered in the second half and went from being a sure top seed to an in-by-the-skin-of-their-noses wild card team. They also hit after the break like they were portraying the San Diego Padres in a school play.
 
But the quick fix, albeit a pricy one, was Melancon, at $62 million for the next four years, a tribute to (a) his work in Pittsburgh and Washington, and (b) the knowledge that the Giants had to buy a closer because they have been unable to nurture one.
 
The contract, which is the highest for a closer in terms of total dollars invested until Chapman and Los Angeles’ Kenley Jansen sign their deals shortly, is not the important part, though. The important part is that Bruce Bochy’s brain is less likely to explode, and that Madison Bumgarner is less likely to yank off a buffalo’s head in rage at another lead blown.
 
Melancon is Brian Sabean’s/Bobby Evans’ response to the 57 percent save percentage (43 saves, 32 blown) the Giants amassed in 2016, their worst in the 10-year Bochy Bullpen Whisperer era and a dropoff from 78 percent in 2010, 79 percent in 2012, and 72 percent in 2014, just to name three years that ended better than the way Game 4 of the NL Division Series did.
 
And while saves and save percentage are not the most granular ways to explain why the Giants made Melancon their fifth highest-paid player, they help explain the urgency to do so, an urgency more profound even that addressing the sinkhole in left field or the wobbly nature of third base.
 
Fortunately, of course, the Giants are swimming in money you have provided them, so that cost should not necessarily be a major impediment to attacking those other needs, but the bullpen was first because the bullpen was worst. And while Melancon will be 35 when his contract expires, the Giants are willing to take the nervous gamble that the contract will indeed expire before Melancon’s usefulness does.
 
And while your results may vary, closers are a nerve-wracking lot anyway, which is why four years and $62 million makes more sense than the five-plus and $100 million or so that Chapman is likely to attract. True, Melancon is not nearly as breathtaking (or as prone to induce his manager to overuse him as Joe Maddon did in the World Series), but the goal isn’t dropped jaws but outs created, and Melancon hasn’t allowed opponents to hit even as much as .210 against him in three years, and his three-year WHIP of 0.899 is sufficiently inspiring for San Francisco’s needs.
 
What comes next? Well, if Sabean and Evans can ply Larry Baer with sufficient drinks to make him put the budget away, they could throw a ton of money at Justin Turner of the Dodgers to (a) improve third base and (b) steal him away from the Dodgers, which always energizes the fan base. As an interested party, you don’t want to bet that way (Turner is considered pretty much re-Dodgered), but if your closer is suddenly worth $15 big ones a year, a third baseman . . . well, you get the point. In for that much, in for that much more, and then some.

Affeldt: Giants better off investing in Melancon over Chapman

Affeldt: Giants better off investing in Melancon over Chapman

It's no secret the Giants' top offseason priority is to add back-end help to the bullpen.

Jeremy Affeldt is plenty familiar with the inner workings of the Giants bullpen after seven seasons with the team and with Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon headlining this year's free agent class of closers, Affeldt's preference is clear.

"Honestly, I like Melancon," Affeldt said on MLB Network Radio Monday morning. "The reason being is because he's got a couple pitches he can go to. He's not going to have the sexiness of a 100-mile-an-hour fastball and I don't think he's going to be a $100 million closer. But I do think he has different weapons that he can go to and he gets the job done efficiently."

Melancon, 31, went 2-2 last year with a 1.64 ERA, 47 saves and 65 strikeouts to 12 walks. He earned $9.65 million.

"Chapman, He can throw 100, but he scares me a little bit," Affelds said. "Not that he throws 100; 100 is more than enough velocity. But I do think he's straight and I do think he's erratic. And, I do think, if people want to look back, he blew four or five games in the playoffs. He doesn't always seal it up if you have to go to him for more than an inning or more than a couple days in a row. ... You can get to him. I really feel like you can."

Chapman, 28, went 4-1 last season with a 1.55 ERA, 36 saves and 90 strikeouts to 18 walks. He earned $11.325 million.

"I think (Melancon) is a better bet for the Giants in that division in that situation," Affeldt concluded.

Free agency preview: Giants hit reliever market at right time

Free agency preview: Giants hit reliever market at right time

SAN FRANCISCO -- Once again, the offseason has lined up perfectly for the Giants. The organization needed starting pitching last winter, and the market presented one of the best classes in years. The Giants came close on Zack Greinke, made calls on other big names, and ultimately came away with Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija.

This offseason presents a similar opportunity.

The Giants were always going to need additional relief pitching after the 2016 season, with the three remaining members of the "Core Four" due for free agency. But the urgency increased during an ugly second half, and the final inning of the brief postseason run sealed the deal: The Giants need a closer, and this might be the best closer market the game has ever seen. 

Before we get to the options, it’s worth remembering what general manager Bobby Evans said a couple of days after the season ended. This will not be an “overhaul.” The pieces are in place for the bullpen to once again be a strength, but …

“We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure we’re clear on who is finishing our games,” Evans said. 

If they can do that, the Giants should have a group more than capable of backing what should be the deepest rotation in the National League. 

INCUMBENTS

RHP Cory Gearrin
RHP George Kontos
RHP Derek Law
LHP Steven Okert
LHP Josh Osich
LHP Will Smith
RHP Hunter Strickland
RHP Albert Suarez

THOUGHTS: The Giants opened the 2016 season with eight relievers, so the addition of one this offseason would pretty much set the group when you look at the players listed above. Smith came over at the deadline and didn’t allow a run after August 18. He should be the Jeremy Affeldt-type going forward. Law (2.13 ERA, 0.96 WHIP as a rookie) has Future Closer written all over him, and if he can stay healthy, he could be the go-to guy in the eighth. Strickland (.207 opponents average in three seasons) is still viewed as a guy who can pitch the ninth down the line, and he’ll team with Law in the late innings.

Okert might have pitched his way onto the 2017 roster with a strong September. Osich pitched his way out of the mix and had minor knee surgery after the season, but the Giants believe his 2015 run (2.20 ERA) is more indicative of who he is. 

Kontos quietly has a 2.48 ERA over the past three seasons, which tucks him right between Craig Kimbrel and Cody Allen on the leaderboard. You can make the argument he’s not used enough. Either way, he’s locked in as Bruce Bochy’s fireman in the middle innings.

Gearrin has held righties to a .615 OPS in his career and could be the new Sergio Romo in Bochy’s matchup-heavy plan.

Finally, there’s the long reliever spot. We’ll list Suarez here, but the Giants will need to find a spot for Matt Cain if he loses out to Ty Blach in spring training, and others like Chris Heston, Chris Stratton and Clayton Blackburn could get into this mix. 

BIG TICKET ITEMS: 

Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon.

You know the names by now. Chapman, a 28-year-old lefty, is the hardest thrower in MLB history. He had 36 saves for the Yankees and Cubs and struck out 90 in 58 innings. He does come with baggage, however; he was suspended 30 games last season because of a domestic violence incident, and if the Giants become a finalist for his services, team executives will have a more detailed conversation about the off-field history. 

Jansen, 29, is a hulking right-hander with a 2.20 career ERA and 189 saves for the Dodgers. He has a simple, cutter-heavy approach, and he showed in October that he’s durable enough to pitch two or three innings when needed. Prying him away would be a monumental swing in the NL West. 

Melancon is a 31-year-old righty the Giants nearly grabbed from the Pirates at the trade deadline. Remember that three-year ERA list above? Melancon, Kontos’ former Yankees teammate, is near the top of every category during that timeframe. He has a 1.93 ERA in 225 appearances over the past three seasons, saving an MLB-leading 131 games in 141 chances.

Evans already has touched base with the representatives for all three, but the bidding could get away from the Giants over the coming weeks. Chapman and Jansen are expected to approach $100 million and both could reasonably ask for five-year deals. With the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs and Nationals among the teams seeking closers, both guys will get what they ask for. The Yankees are thought to be the favorites for Chapman and it'll be hard to outbid the Dodgers for Jansen, who was given a qualifying offer and would cost his new team a draft pick. Evans surprised the baseball world by scooping Cueto up last December, but right now that world sees Melancon as his best bet.

BEST OF THE REST:

The Giants watched Greg Holland’s showcase earlier this month, and if he’s all the way back from Tommy John surgery, he could be in the same class as the Big Three. They have seen plenty of Daniel Hudson over the years, and he’s an intriguing upside play. He has the stuff to be a closer once a team gets him away from Chase Field, but he doesn’t have the track record. Koji Uehara has the track record (93 big league saves) and the Giants have checked in on him, but he turns 42 next April so he would simply be a stopgap.

Brad Ziegler closed the Giants out three times last year while with the Diamondbacks and posted a 2.25 ERA in 69 appearances, most of them in hitter-friendly Chase Field and Fenway Park. He’s not the sexy pick, but his ability to keep the ball on the ground would certainly fit well in front of Gold Glove winners Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik.

Finally, you have a bunch of veterans who have done it before. Jonathan Papelbon. Fernando Rodney. Joaquin Benoit. Drew Storen. Etc. It’s hard to see how any of these options are better than turning the ninth over to Law or Strickland. 

TRADE OPTIONS: 

Remember that Royals team that took the Giants to the very end in 2014? Holland was the closer for a lockdown bullpen, but two other right-handers could also be available this offseason. The Giants asked about Wade Davis (1.18 ERA the past three seasons; that is not a typo) in July but a forearm strain ended that conversation. He returned to the mound in September, and the best move for the Royals could be to deal a dominant closer who is under contract for just one more year. Herrera saved 12 games when Davis went down, and if the Royals ever make him available, he has the stuff (10.8 K/9 last season) to step right in as a closer. 

The Royals will need to sell at some point, as just about all the key pieces from that 2015 title team are coming up on free agency. The White Sox should be selling now, and if they do, David Robertson (37 saves, 3.47 ERA, 1.36 WHIP) might be a nice short-term fit. He has two years and $25 million left on his deal and he shouldn’t cost much in terms of prospects. Some American League talent evaluators believe he would benefit greatly from a roomier ballpark and better defense. 

GIANTS FREE AGENTS 

No look at the reliever market would be complete without remembering what the Giants had. Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Romo are free agents, but the Giants haven’t had serious discussions with any of them. Casilla will be a sneaky-good addition somewhere, but his time in San Francisco ended bitterly. Both sides need a fresh start. With Smith, Okert and Osich already on the 40-man roster, it’s hard to see where Lopez fits. He’s said to have a very short list of teams that could keep him out of retirement. 

Romo has had his ups and downs in recent years. He lost the ninth-inning job, battled injuries, and didn’t always see eye-to-eye with Bochy (twice in 2016 he laughed as he was pulled from a game). But he continues to dominate in short bursts thanks to his slider and what Cueto would call “coconuts,” and if he can’t find a bigger role elsewhere, a January or February reunion could make sense.