SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — At the Winter Meetings in December, manager Bruce Bochy was asked about the ninth inning and declined to name Will Smith his closer. At the time, it was easy to understand. The Giants were open about the fact that Smith was a popular target in trade discussions.
It’s now February and Smith is still here, but Bochy again said he needs some time before naming a closer.
“I don’t know if we’ll answer that until two or three weeks from now,” he said.
The latest complication is a good one. It’s unlikely the Giants trade Smith at this point, but the man who was supposed to be the closer for four years is throwing so well that the staff wants to take some time to make a decision. Mark Melancon is fully healthy and had good life on his throws Wednesday, the first day of camp, and he remains in the mix.
“We haven’t defined that role yet,” Bochy said when asked about Smith. “I’ll add to that that Melancon feels great. He looks like he got over the hump with his situation.”
Melancon’s first two seasons in San Francisco have been wrecked by forearm injuries, and with diminished velocity and cut, he has struggled. Melancon managed a 3.23 ERA last season in 41 appearances, but had a 1.59 WHIP and his strikeout rate dipped to 7.2 strikeouts-per-nine.
The Giants often saw a good curveball from Melancon last year, but the cutter that made him so dominant has been inconsistent. The hope is that the repertoire returns and they can still salvage plenty from the final two years of a $62 million contract.
That’s not to say that Melancon would automatically get the ninth if he returns to form this spring. Smith was dominant for much of his first season back from Tommy John surgery and had a 1.90 ERA before a rough appearance on the final weekend of the season put him at 2.55. The lefty had 14 saves after taking over when Hunter Strickland got hurt.
The Giants haven’t made a choice yet. They’re hoping Melancon makes it a tough one.