Giants get their closer, give record deal to Melancon

Giants get their closer, give record deal to Melancon

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Giants never tried to hide their offseason plan. From a downcast season-ending press conference, to the General Managers Meetings, to the first days of December, team officials insisted that the focus was on adding a big name to the ninth inning. 

In the opening hours of baseball’s annual Winter Meetings, the Giants found their guy.

Mark Melancon, a three-time All-Star and one of the premier relievers in the game, signed a four-year, $62 million deal. The ninth inning is set. The Giants believe the bullpen is set, too. 

“The core of the bullpen was in place. We felt that closer was the one area we didn’t want to have any doubts about,” general manager Bobby Evans said Monday. “It gives all of the club peace of mind and confidence. As many close games as we play, we have a lockdown guy in the ninth.”

Few have had a firmer grip on the ninth in recent years than Melancon. In his three full seasons as a closer, he has led Major League Baseball with 131 saves. He has a 2.60 ERA in eight seasons and last season posted a microscopic 1.64 for the Pirates and Nationals, closing 47 games in 51 chances. 

Melancon has 10 blown saves over the past three seasons. The Giants had nine in September alone. 

“We’re glad he chose us,” Evans said, smiling. 

When Melancon completed a physical on Monday afternoon in Scottsdale, the finishing touch was put on the richest contract ever given to a reliever. The deal put the Giants back over the competitive balance tax and carries a $17 million average annual value. The previous Giants closer, Santiago Casilla, was on a deal that originally guaranteed him $15 million total over three seasons. Melancon has blown that out of the water, and he could be in line for one more payday. 

The deal includes an opt-out after the second year, similar to the one given to Johnny Cueto a year ago. Melancon will get a $20 million signing bonus with $8 million deferred. He is due $4 million in salary in 2017 and $10 million in 2018, and if he opts out, he gets that money plus the full signing bonus, turning this into a two-year, $34 million pact. If Melancon doesn’t opt out, he will make $14 million in each of his final two seasons. He also received a full no-trade clause. That was simply the price of doing business for the Giants, who have avoided big-money closers since the Armando Benitez disaster. 

“You would have loved for this market to have been more in line with past markets, but the demand for closers is high and there were some big clubs pursuing them,” Evans said. “It certainly created a competition.”

The Giants were edged out in a competition for Melancon’s services in July, when they fell just short of the Nationals’ offer to the Pirates. They had the winning bid on Monday, and league sources indicated that the Nationals finished second this time around.

Melancon took advantage of the best closer market in MLB history, and he was the first of the Big Three to ink a deal. The Giants met with Melancon in San Francisco in November and also visited former Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen at his home in Arizona. They never met face-to-face with the third big name on the market, Aroldis Chapman. Both Jansen and Chapman are expected to shoot past Melancon’s current high mark for money given to a relief pitcher. 

The Giants all along felt that Melancon was the right fit of the three. Evans noted his durability — he has made at least 70 appearances in five of the last six seasons — and said Melancon impressed team officials with a description of his preparation process. Melancon primarily throws a cutter in the low 90s and he’s not the traditional power pitcher in the ninth. He struck out just 8.2 batters per nine innings last season but he allowed only three homers and walked just 12 batters. Melancon ranked eighth in the Majors in average exit velocity against, and the Giants believe that pitch-to-soft-contact approach is perfectly suited for an infield that has two Gold Glove Award winners up the middle.

“He’s a high ground-ball rate guy, which is perfect for our defense,” Evans said. “His preparation and approach — we just feel he’ll be a great fit for us.”

Melancon will be introduced to fans and the media on Friday at AT&T Park. When he dons the orange and black, the Giants believe he’ll be the final piece to a championship contender. They do not intend to make big waves in the rest of the market, although Evans said they would remain open-minded about additions to the outfield or bench. In the bullpen, the order is just about set. Any additions will likely be non-roster invitees at this point, tasked with trying to break into a group that includes Will Smith, George Kontos, Cory Gearrin, Hunter Strickland, Derek Law, Josh Osich, Steven Okert and other young pitchers. 

Evans said he feels good about the collection — now that he’s found his closer. 

“He'll make the rest of the bullpen better,” he said of Melancon. 

Bryce Harper's 2019 home (Phillies? Cubs? Nationals?) is up for debate

Bryce Harper's 2019 home (Phillies? Cubs? Nationals?) is up for debate

Bryce Harper is a free agent, but don't expect him to play baseball in the Bay Area next season -- unless it's as a visitor.

While some Giants fans have drooled at the prospect of the slugger in orange and black, it doesn't appear likely, given their new head of baseball operations' past history. Agent Scott Boras, who's masterful at building markets for his clients, sees San Francisco as a fit, even if the team probably does not, with the reported $40 million-per-season asking price too rich.

There's no way Harper will join the payroll-light A's, either. In fact, his annual salary could cost more than a possible Oakland 25-man roster.

So, where exactly will Harper end up when the dust created by Boras' bluster is all said and done? Giants insider Alex Pavlovic and A's reporter Ben Ross debated that question and came up with different conclusions.

ALEX: Ben, this is the Winter of Bryce and Manny ... but so far Bryce Harper has been the one on center stage. That’ll happen when your agent stands up in front of reporters at the GM Meetings and declares that Harper’s Bazaar is open. It’s been a cold market so far. The Yankees say they’re out, the Cubs say they don’t have payroll space, and I reported last week that the Giants aren’t as interested as they once were.

Where does that leave us? Phillies? Dodgers? White Sox? The #MysteryTeam? His Nationals? Who am I missing?

BEN: The Phillies definitely look like the favorite at this point, but who knows? It seems like every article about him is telling us why he WON’T sign with a certain team. I still say he’s not worth the ridiculous salary being projected. Am I wrong?

ALEX: I think we've found over the years that most of the massive deals don't work out. A year ago at this time, we were on Giancarlo Stanton Watch, and he had a pretty quiet 2018. It's definitely safer to spread that money around, but you know Boras will find an owner -- and make no mistake about it, he goes straight to the ownership level -- to write that check. I know what I would do if I were Harper, but what do you think he should do?

BEN: Maybe I'm an idiot (actually, that's confirmed), but I think Harper is a little overrated. He's obviously a really good hitter, but he's only hit 30-plus home runs twice in seven years. Want to know where he ranked in WAR last season? Tied for 186th. If I were him, I think I'd stay with the Nationals. What would you do?

ALEX: I would stay with the Nationals, too. It's different if you can get yourself closer to home by playing for the Dodgers or Giants, or put yourself on the biggest stages in Chicago or New York -- but if it comes down to choices like the Phillies, I'd definitely stay home, unless the contract difference is overwhelming. It's rare that you're given an opportunity to be THE GUY in one city for your whole career, and it seems like the Nats really do want him back.

As for the overrated part, you're not an idiot -- I've talked to plenty of scouts and executives who point to Harper's poor defense and say he's not worth close to $300 million. Will he get it? We'll see. I think he will, which leads to our two big questions: Does he get the largest contract in MLB history, and where does he end up?

BEN: Good point on his defense. His career defensive WAR is -3.0. I still think he will get the largest contract in MLB history, although I don't expect him to end up out West. The Phillies seem like the best bet at this point, based on chatter around baseball, although I'm not completely convinced the Yankees and Cubs are out of it, regardless of what they say.

But if I had to bet, I'd pick the Phillies on a 10-year, $375 million contract. They have the money to spend, and they're a big-market team looking for a new face of the franchise. Harper would be that.

ALEX: All year, I've thought Harper would end up with the Cubs. But now everyone I check with around the game points to the Phillies. I get it -- and they probably have the most money to offer -- but for some reason, I just can't get on board with him jumping to another NL East club like that. It feels dirty.

Boras has a history with the Nationals, and I think he'll ultimately go back to ownership there and find a way to make a reunion happen. I'll say it's 10 years and $340 million, with at least two opt-outs that allow him to get back onto the market if he wants to go through all this again.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Monday is dedicated to Nationals slugger Bryce Harper.

Giants could use Harper money to fill numerous other needs
Harper would be an entire roster's worth of salary for the A's 
Phillies could use Harper's personality just as much as his big bat
Why Harper sacrificed home runs with Nationals to save his season
White Sox would have to pitch Harper on possibility of bright future
World champion Red Sox not a part of Harper's free-agent journey

How Giants could/should use Bryce Harper contract money in free agency

NBC Sports Bay Area

How Giants could/should use Bryce Harper contract money in free agency

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants have been connected to Bryce Harper for months, but if you chatted with some coaches and players this summer, you often found people who preferred a different approach, one centered on adding three to four contributors.

Farhan Zaidi, the Giants' new head of baseball operations, surely would agree. His method over the years has been to build depth on the 25- and 40-man rosters. Under Zaidi and Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers never gave a player more than $80 million, and even then, the check went to Kenley Jansen, a popular homegrown star. Sources told NBC Sports Bay Area last week that the Giants’ connection to Harper has been overblown.

[RELATED: Harper's agent explains why slugger loves San Francisco]

Still, there’s plenty of money to spend here. The Giants dipped under the luxury tax and wiped some serious salary off the books. At the top of the list is Hunter Pence’s deal, which expired at the end of the season and gives Zaidi a $18.5 million chunk to play with this offseason. Andrew McCutchen was shipped out in August, and that’s another hefty salary slot left open.

The Giants already picked up Madison Bumgarner’s option, and they’ll dish out somewhere in the neighborhood of $18 million in arbitration. Depending on how aggressive they want to be, that still leaves them potentially between $30 million to $40 million to spend. Harper would take up all that, or nearly all of it, with agent Scott Boras seeking a record deal that could make him the first $400 million player.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s go to the high end of the free agent market. If the Giants have nearly $40 million to spend, and they’re not spending it on Harper, what else could they put together?

The Pitcher

The Giants would like to add at least one front-line starter, per sources, and there are plenty of options. Let’s assume the Giants don’t go straight to the top of the pitching market again, so Patrick Corbin is out. Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Nathan Eovaldi are intriguing options, but another name might make more sense.

Zaidi’s Dodgers gave Rich Hill a three-year, $48-million contract. MLB Trade Rumors predicts J.A. Happ -- basically a 3- to 4-WAR player in each of the last four seasons -- will get the Hill deal. So, we’ll slide Happ in here as as a strong rotation addition making $16 million next year.

The Swiss Army Knife

On the Giants Insider Podcast last week, Zaidi noted that “positional versatility will certainly be something we look at as a positive.” There isn’t a more versatile piece out there than Marwin Gonzalez, who could be the primary starter in left field while also backing up all four infield spots. MLB Trade Rumors has the 30-year-old costing $9 million per year.

The Outfielder

It’s not a deep class, but perhaps the Giants can find a steal on the second tier. They loved McCutchen, who is projected at $15 million by MLB Trade Rumors. Michael Brantley could be there at a similar price. Nick Markakis is at the $8 million to $12 million range on most prediction lists, and MLB Trade Rumors has him getting a two-year, $16 million deal. Markakis, who will be 35 next season, could be a nice placeholder in right field until Zaidi can build some prospect depth.

There are many ways to go here, and it’s possible that the market tanks as it did last winter and there will be some serious bargains in January. The point is, if the Giants want to be deeper and better, not just flashier, in 2019, they can pretty easily spread out the Harper money over multiple players. The Happ, Gonzalez and Markakis trio listed above combined for 8.5 WAR in 2018, per Baseball Reference, and none of them would require long-term commitments -- something the Giants should avoid, given their current payroll situation.

With a few adjustments here or there, the Giants still could bring back a Derek Holland or a Nick Hundley. Perhaps they could take on some money in a trade, adding an everyday outfielder that way. The possibilities, if your offseason is not focused on one player, are endless, and you can bet Zaidi already is exploring them.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Monday is dedicated to Nationals slugger Bryce Harper.

Harper would be an entire roster's worth of salary for the A's 
Phillies could use Harper's personality just as much as his big bat
Why Harper sacrificed home runs with Nationals to save his season
White Sox would have to pitch Harper on possibility of bright future
World champion Red Sox not a part of Harper's free-agent journey