Making sense of Melancon and the contract that doesn't matter

Making sense of Melancon and the contract that doesn't matter

In a world in which there is Aroldis Chapman and teams without parades, the San Francisco Giants decided that Santiago Casilla wasn’t the answer, and Mark Melancon is.
In fairness, the Giants made the Casilla call in September after watching him work and his confidence shrivel like an orange in front of a space heater, but there were other reasons why the Giants cratered in the second half and went from being a sure top seed to an in-by-the-skin-of-their-noses wild card team. They also hit after the break like they were portraying the San Diego Padres in a school play.
But the quick fix, albeit a pricy one, was Melancon, at $62 million for the next four years, a tribute to (a) his work in Pittsburgh and Washington, and (b) the knowledge that the Giants had to buy a closer because they have been unable to nurture one.
The contract, which is the highest for a closer in terms of total dollars invested until Chapman and Los Angeles’ Kenley Jansen sign their deals shortly, is not the important part, though. The important part is that Bruce Bochy’s brain is less likely to explode, and that Madison Bumgarner is less likely to yank off a buffalo’s head in rage at another lead blown.
Melancon is Brian Sabean’s/Bobby Evans’ response to the 57 percent save percentage (43 saves, 32 blown) the Giants amassed in 2016, their worst in the 10-year Bochy Bullpen Whisperer era and a dropoff from 78 percent in 2010, 79 percent in 2012, and 72 percent in 2014, just to name three years that ended better than the way Game 4 of the NL Division Series did.
And while saves and save percentage are not the most granular ways to explain why the Giants made Melancon their fifth highest-paid player, they help explain the urgency to do so, an urgency more profound even that addressing the sinkhole in left field or the wobbly nature of third base.
Fortunately, of course, the Giants are swimming in money you have provided them, so that cost should not necessarily be a major impediment to attacking those other needs, but the bullpen was first because the bullpen was worst. And while Melancon will be 35 when his contract expires, the Giants are willing to take the nervous gamble that the contract will indeed expire before Melancon’s usefulness does.
And while your results may vary, closers are a nerve-wracking lot anyway, which is why four years and $62 million makes more sense than the five-plus and $100 million or so that Chapman is likely to attract. True, Melancon is not nearly as breathtaking (or as prone to induce his manager to overuse him as Joe Maddon did in the World Series), but the goal isn’t dropped jaws but outs created, and Melancon hasn’t allowed opponents to hit even as much as .210 against him in three years, and his three-year WHIP of 0.899 is sufficiently inspiring for San Francisco’s needs.
What comes next? Well, if Sabean and Evans can ply Larry Baer with sufficient drinks to make him put the budget away, they could throw a ton of money at Justin Turner of the Dodgers to (a) improve third base and (b) steal him away from the Dodgers, which always energizes the fan base. As an interested party, you don’t want to bet that way (Turner is considered pretty much re-Dodgered), but if your closer is suddenly worth $15 big ones a year, a third baseman . . . well, you get the point. In for that much, in for that much more, and then some.

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.