Giants

Giants take aim at new closer as offseason begins

Giants take aim at new closer as offseason begins

SAN FRANCISCO — Bruce Bochy leaned back in his chair a few hours before Game 4 of the National League Division Series and pondered a reporter’s question. Who would pitch the ninth? Bochy smiled and said everyone would just have to wait and see. 

The answer turned out to be one not conducive to postseason success: All of them. 

Bochy turned to five relievers in the final inning of the season. The Giants gave up four runs and handed over the three-run lead that Matt Moore and an opportunistic lineup had built. Postseason teams had been 824-3 when taking a three-run lead into the ninth. The Giants became the first in 30 years to blow such an advantage. 

That kind of carnage will lead to changes, but general manager Bobby Evans said the Giants are not looking to “overhaul” their bullpen. They feel good about the young arms they have assembled, but it’s clear that the returning relievers need a leader for the ninth. 

“The bullpen performs at a much higher level when you know who your ninth-inning guy is,” Evans said. “It puts everybody at ease and helps Boch as he defines roles. With ambiguity, it creates tension and unknowns that can add to or detract from performance and ultimately lead to struggles. We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure we’re clear on who is finishing our games.” 

Evans said he would scour the free agent market, the trade market, and his own roster to try and find one man for the final three outs. The initial read in talks with team executives is that a trade may be the most likely option. There are three dominant relievers at the head of the offseason list, but the Giants would need to make an overwhelming offer to beat the Yankees, Cubs and others to Aroldis Chapman, the man who closed them out. They likely would have to hand a blank check to Kenley Jansen to pry him away the division rival Dodgers. 

That leaves Mark Melancon as the most likely target, and Giants who have gotten to know the veteran right-hander believe he would be a perfect fit in the clubhouse. Melancon is said to be a strong clubhouse presence, the type of quiet, ego-free worker who would fit right in alongside the Buster Poseys and Madison Bumgarners of the world. 

The 31-year-old had 47 saves for the Pirates and Nationals this season, posting a 1.64 ERA and 0.90 WHIP. He saved 51 games a year ago, with a 2.23 ERA. The year before that, it was 33 saves and 1.90. In short, he is the type of player who could walk into the clubhouse on Day 1 and lock down the ninth inning. 

The Giants made a hard push for Melancon at the trade deadline. Evans’ bid came up just short of Washington’s, and he has spent months asking himself if the Giants should have overwhelmed the Pirates. The Giants never had a realistic shot at Chapman or Andrew Miller, who has helped carry the Indians into the ALCS.

“There were instances where you were told you just don’t have enough to get active, like we have on the table from other folks,” said Brian Sabean, vice president of baseball operations. “We knew it was going to be 'how much pain from the minor leagues,' or maybe even the major league team as was the case with (Matt) Duffy. I know the effort was there. But again, you have to have a willing partner that thinks that you’re a good fit. 

“In every case that a closer didn’t come to the Giants, they went elsewhere for probably a lot more than we could have been involved in.”

Starting a few days after the World Series, the only issue will be the size of the offer. 

Team president and CEO Larry Baer said Thursday that “resources will be expended” to fill any holes. A year ago, Bochy asked management for innings-eaters. The front office went out and spent $220 million on Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, each of whom threw 200-plus innings. 

If the Giants can bring in a closer, they believe the rest of the bullpen will fall in line. 

Evans confirmed that he will tender a contract to George Kontos, who posted a 2.53 ERA in 57 appearances. Cory Gearrin may take over for Sergio Romo as a specialist against right-handers. The Giants have not ruled out reunions with members of the Core Four, but it is expected that Javier Lopez and Santiago Casilla will move on. Much of the talk Thursday revolved around young relievers Derek Law, Hunter Strickland, Steven Okert and Josh Osich. Will Smith is a lock for late-innings work. 

None of it worked Tuesday, but Bochy has not lost faith. He said the Giants “threw everything (we had) at them and that was the plan.” Bochy believes the 2016 struggles will prove a blessing in disguise for his young pitchers. The Giants talk often about the fact that guys like Lopez, Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt had to go through trials elsewhere before turning into bullpen stars and champions in San Francisco. 

“Every season, you learn from what happened the year before and you get better because of it,” Bochy said. “These guys will be better. We did ask them to do some things that aren’t easy to do, especially a young guy like a Law or Strickland. They’ll be better pitchers because of what happened this year and down the stretch and pitching in these games with such intensity. They have the weapons to do it. 

“I love Smitty. Okert, he stepped up for us. I think Osich is going to be better, so we do have a core of good young pitchers there. We’re going to have some growing pains but they’ll be better because of what happened.”

The Giants are counting on it. The offseason plan is not quantity. It’s quality, specifically in the ninth. There will be no more ambiguity. 

“As much as we can,” Evans said. “We’d like to know going into spring training who is going to pitch the ninth.”
 

Giants, Madison Bumgarner's camp talking with Dodgers rumor swirling

Giants, Madison Bumgarner's camp talking with Dodgers rumor swirling

SAN FRANCISCO -- Sure they're the ones talking to agents in suites, discussing blockbuster trades, and spending millions on players, but at points of the MLB Winter Meetings, Giants executives are just like their fans. 

That was the case Tuesday night, when Gerrit Cole reportedly agreed a record contract and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic immediately reported that the Dodgers, a finalist for Cole, would turn their attention to Madison Bumgarner. Rosenthal's tweet instantly caught the attention of officials in the team's suite and some who were wandering the lobby. Those who had already left for dinner discussed the news after ordering their wine. 

The report startled the fan base. It did not shake the front office. You won't find many people who work for the team who are confident that Bumgarner will be pitching in San Francisco next season, but the Giants also do not believe he'll actually end up with the Dodgers. 

"A smart negotiation tactic," one source said, smiling. 

The Dodgers reportedly bid about $300 million on Cole and were in on Anthony Rendon, who reportedly got $245 million from the Angels, but they don't have a recent history of spending big on free agents. Cole and Rendon were special cases because they were at the very top of their respective markets. 

Bumgarner, per sources familiar with his thinking, is seeking a deal in excess of $100 million. It's unknown just how high the Giants would go and they're not thought to be at the forefront of discussions, but president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi met with Bumgarner's agents on Tuesday and said Wednesday night that the Giants are still engaged with Bumgarner's camp. 

Most in the organization are still preparing for Bumgarner's departure, and it's unlikely that the latest rumors will change that thinking. Zaidi isn't one to be bullied into a move by the possibility of a popular player signing with a rival. This will be a baseball decision for the Giants.

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"We are kind of going through the process with all free agents based on where we are as an organization, what our direction is going to be, and there's a lot of rumors and a lot of innuendo and a lot of noise," Zaidi said Wednesday night when the latest rumor was brought up. "We just have to go based on what we know and the conversations that we're having."

MLB rumors: Giants bringing in Oracle Park fences, but only slightly

MLB rumors: Giants bringing in Oracle Park fences, but only slightly

The Giants promised there would be changes to the dimensions of Oracle Park, and they evidently have lived up to their word.

The fences are coming in -- but not by a ton.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Hank Schulman, San Francisco reportedly has marginally shortened the distance to all fields.

What about Triples Alley, you ask? Surely there must be more drastic changes to that area of Oracle Park, right?

Not really.

Six feet doesn't sound like a lot, but then again, Brandon Belt might have doubled his home-run total from last season under those dimensions. The Giants are removing the bullpen mounds from the first and third-base sidelines, and they are expected to be relocated to the extra space now created in the outfield.

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So, it appears Oracle Park generally will maintain the same character, but likely will allow for more offense. Given the trouble the Giants have had in attracting free-agent hitters, perhaps the shortened dimensions will somewhat detract from its identity as a pitcher's haven.