LAS VEGAS — On the first day of the MLB Winter Meetings two years ago, the Giants handed Mark Melancon a deal that was at the time a record contract for a reliever, which they believed would shore up the weakest group on the roster.
On Monday, new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said he released the organization's 2018 Opening Day closer in part because he believes the Giants now have relief depth.
The Giants non-tendered Hunter Strickland late last month, and in his first media session since that move, Zaidi said he believed he could make it because the bullpen is “a particularly deep area and an area of strength for the team.”
Zaidi noted the left-handed depth he has in Will Smith and Tony Watson, but it’s the right-handed relievers — particularly two rookies — who really made the move possible.
“Having (Reyes) Moronta and Ray Black -- who we are very high on going forward -- and (Sam) Dyson, who had a nice year for us, and some of the guys behind them, we just felt like that was an area of surplus for us,” Zaidi said. “We had some conversations with teams that were potentially interested from a trade standpoint on Strickland but we didn’t wind up finding a fit.
“We ultimately felt that having roster flexibility — some of those guys having options — to retain our optionable depth and still create another spot in the bullpen was the best way forward.”
Despite the occasional emotional moments, Strickland generally was a strong contributor to the Giants' bullpen, and some in the organization were surprised he was let go, given the fact he was due only about $2.5 million next season. A source who has spoken to Strickland said the pitcher initially was shocked, but he's now excited for the next step in his career and ready for a bounce-back year.
If Strickland does put a rough 2018 behind him, it will be in another uniform, but Zaidi hasn’t closed the door on a reunion with Gorkys Hernandez, the other player non-tendered. He said he wouldn’t rule out Hernandez coming back, although it’s seen as unlikely, given the other players the Giants are considering. They added one backup center field option Monday.
Zaidi said he wanted to retain flexibility in the outfield, and Hernandez was hurt by the fact that he is out of options. Steven Duggar, Austin Slater, Chris Shaw and Monday pick-up Mike Gerber all have minor league options remaining. Despite what was viewed as a breakout season, Hernandez also fell far short in a stat the Giants are looking to bolster.
“One area that we want to look at is improving the offense from a plate discipline standpoint, even something as basic as the walk-strikeout ratio of the guys on the team,” Zaidi said.
Hernandez had a .285 on-base percentage last season, and it was just .220 after the All-Star break. The Giants ranked second to last in the NL in OBP last season, and the outfield is one of the few areas where they can make real lineup changes.