SAN FRANCISCO — On the last night of the MLB Winter Meetings, two deals sent a shockwave through the crowds gathered at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino’s lobby bars. The Mets gave Jeurys Familia $30 million, and the Dodgers guaranteed $25 million to Joe Kelly.
The wall had come crashing down in the crowded relief pitcher market, and in the Giants, suite, it was all smiles.
The Giants have been patiently waiting for some big-name free-agent relievers to come off the board, knowing they have intriguing alternatives to offer teams looking for cheaper solutions.
“We’ve gotten a lot of calls on guys in our bullpen,” president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said. “Both veteran guys and even some of the younger guys.”
The majority of the calls, league sources confirmed, center around closer Will Smith.
The St. Louis Cardinals are among the teams that have checked in on Smith, one of the more attractive pieces potentially available this offseason. Smith is coming off a strong season during which he posted a 2.55 ERA, saved 14 games, struck out well over a batter per inning, and showed his pre-Tommy John velocity and command.
Why would the Giants trade such a piece? They find themselves confronted with an old team-building adage: If you’re not going to contend, the first player you should trade is your closer.
The Giants hope to play competitive baseball down the stretch in 2019, but they also are realistic about how many holes there are on the roster, and they’re willing to trade players such as Smith or Madison Bumgarner if the team is stronger in the long run.
Zaidi kept his cards close for most of the four days in Las Vegas, but he was open about the fact that he’s listening on his relief pitchers. He said he tried to trade Hunter Strickland but could not find a taker, so the Giants non-tendered the right-hander, who remains a free agent. Tony Watson and Sam Dyson are other cost-efficient options, although Smith is the biggest prize.
The left-hander could fit just about any team in the majors. Smith is expected to make only about $4.1 million in his final year of arbitration and could slide in as a closer for a team in need of ninth-inning help, or a late-innings lefty for a team already possessing a solid closer. He can pitch multiple innings and proved to be durable once he returned.
The Giants, per sources, are marketing Smith as an appealing alternative to Andrew Miller and Zach Britton, two veterans who expect to cash in as free agents. Zaidi noted that for teams looking at the high end of the relief market, the "cost certainty of the trade targets may be attractive."
The Giants are looking for young outfielders and cost-controlled starting pitchers in most discussions. If nothing materializes, Zaidi believes he'll go into 2019 with a strong bullpen. Perhaps all of this will be revisited before the July 31 trade deadline.
"That’s an area of strength for the team. If we keep this group intact, it’s one of the best groups in the National League," Zaidi said of his bullpen. "If it makes sense for us to move somebody to fill needs on the position player side or in the rotation, I think we’re still going to go into next year with a pretty good core."