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.
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.
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.