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.”
 

Gabe Kapler's relationship with Giants' clubhouse must be focal point

Gabe Kapler's relationship with Giants' clubhouse must be focal point

Gabe Kapler’s tenure in Philadelphia wasn’t met with much in the way of brotherly love.

Kapler was fired after just two seasons in Philadelphia, both of which saw the Phillies fail to reach the postseason.

Now officially minted as the newest manager of the Giants, NBC Sports Philadelphia Phillies Insider Jim Salisbury spoke about Kapler’s tenure and how it ended for the 44-year-old.

“I’m sure Gabe learned a lot, because a lot of things went wrong,” Phillies Insider Jim Salisbury said on SportsNet Central on Tuesday night. “Failure can be a great teacher.”

An overall record just below .500 (161-163) doesn’t necessarily evoke abject failure, but Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi made sure to cover all his bases (I’m sorry, it’s late) in learning about Kapler’s time in eastern Pennsylvania. 

One thing the front office liked, in particular, was the reviews from players who had operated under Kapler.

“Players like Gabe a lot,” Salisbury said. “ And I think the reason they do is he lets them do whatever they want.” 

Although Kapler’s leadership style resonated with his roster in Philadelphia, he had a much stronger connection to Phillies’ management than he did with his own dugout. 

“I always thought in Philadelphia, he bonded a lot better with the front office than he did with the clubhouse,” Salisbury said. “I didn’t think they always played for him, but I think he always responded to what the front office wanted.”

[RELATED: Zaidi addresses Kapler controversy after Giants hire him]

Joining an old co-worker in Zaidi likely will make that transition a lot smoother for Kapler, but it remains to be seen how players in the Giants’ clubhouse respond to a very different style of manager from three-time World Series champion Bruce Bochy.

More on Kapler from NBC Sports Philadelphia

Leadership issues led to Kapler's firing
Kapler's reactions on final day of Phillies season
Bryce Harper's thoughts on Kapler's future
Kapler and Velasquez have miscommunication

Why Farhan Zaidi tied his, Giants' fortunes to new manager Gabe Kapler

Why Farhan Zaidi tied his, Giants' fortunes to new manager Gabe Kapler

SAN FRANCISCO -- The best way to get through life on social media is to never check the mentions, but a lot of Giants employees couldn't help themselves over the past month.

The franchise's search for a new manager was mostly quiet outside of the building, but occasionally a scrap of information would leak out, and Giants fans were not shy about making their opinions known about one particular candidate. Team employees found themselves gravitating toward Twitter, reading some of the reaction.

Gabe Kapler was the favorite when the Giants started this process more than a month ago, and in the end, he was Farhan Zaidi's choice.

Zaidi and Andrew Friedman nearly hired Kapler as the manager in Los Angeles before settling on Dave Roberts, but given a second chance, the Giants' president of baseball operations is tying a large part of his own future to Kapler, whom the Phillies fired last month after two seasons.

This perhaps is the biggest decision Zaidi will make over the course of his initial five-year contract with the Giants, and it's one he did not at all take lightly.

The Giants knew Kapler would be a controversial choice, and sources say there was division at the upper levels of the organization about which way they should go. As the finish line neared, Kapler came back to San Francisco.

"He has met with everybody we have," one Giants person said Monday.

There are team employees who preferred Astros bench coach Joe Espada and a path with less baggage, but in the end, this was Zaidi's choice, and it needed to be.

When the Giants brought Zaidi up from LA a year ago, they handed him the keys to the baseball operations department. You can't do that, and then keep him from making his own decision with his most important hire.

Zaidi was deliberate, interviewing two internal candidates and a handful of rising coaches from other organizations. As of Monday afternoon, some of his coworkers believed Zaidi truly had not made up his mind, but the search kept coming back to Kapler.

The reasons for optimism are clear. Kapler is known as a good communicator, and he was a rising star while with the Dodgers. The Giants believe they need changes across all levels, and Kapler helped modernize the Dodgers while serving as director of player development. While he went 161-163 as the manager in Philadelphia, Kapler does have two years of experience and hopefully has learned from his mistakes. Zaidi has publicly talked of the boost a manager can get the second time around.

Kapler certainly has the résumé that can help overhaul a Giants clubhouse that had become stale. He played a dozen years in the big leagues, and that carries significant weight. His time working in the minors should serve him well, as he takes over a team that used 64 players in 2019 and expects to bring in plenty of prospects over the next two years.

But there also are reasons why you'd be ratioed with the mere mention of Kapler as a front-runner. There are questions about the way he handled assault allegations against Dodgers prospects while in LA, and Kapler and his bosses will have to answer those as he's introduced Wednesday. Zaidi gave his initial thoughts Tuesday night, but he'll likely have to address it again. Kapler will, too.

[RELATED: Krukow explains why he likes Kapler's hiring]

Ultimately, this decision will be judged on wins and losses, and Kapler is coming off a rough finish in Philadelphia. The Phillies had plenty of injuries, but they went 81-81 and finished fourth in the NL East after adding Bryce Harper.

The Giants have been worse than that in recent years, of course. That's why they brought in Zaidi and tasked him with overhauling the organization. They gave him the keys and trusted him to make the right decisions.

The first year was mostly positive, with the big league roster showing strides and the farm system hinting that it might get this team back to contention sooner than expected. This is the start of Zaidi's second year with the Giants, so he took a big swing, giving Kapler a three-year contract. Starting Wednesday, when they'll stand side by side at Oracle Park, they'll try to prove it was the right decision.

The easiest way to do that is one that worked for the previous regime. Win, and win big.

More on Kapler from NBC Sports Philadelphia

Leadership issues led to Kapler's firing by Phillies 
Kapler's reactions on final day of Phillies season
Bryce Harper's thoughts on Kapler's future
Kapler, Velasquez have miscommunication