Giants

Sabean looking for 'meaningful piece' for Giants' bullpen

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Sabean looking for 'meaningful piece' for Giants' bullpen

BOSTON — Brian Sabean doesn’t know whether the Giants will get an impact bullpen arm in a market flush with marquee buyers. But he knows exactly the type the front office will chase before the August 1 deadline. 

“The real dilemma is how you upgrade, and it has to be meaningful,” the Giants’ executive vice president of baseball operations said. “It can’t just be a body.”

The Giants are aiming high in their search for bullpen help. In the past, Sabean and Bobby Evans have added matchup plays and middle relief types, and it’s worked out well. But Sabean made it clear Wednesday that as Evans canvasses the market — and the Giants are checking in on just about everyone — he’s looking for a back-end type. 

The Giants have 18 blown saves this season, the most in the Majors. Before Wednesday’s loss at Fenway Park, Sabean was asked if he would be comfortable in the postseason with the current options in the eighth and ninth. The Giants have Sergio Romo setting up for Santiago Casilla. 

“It’s a good question, but usually bullpens get on a roll like a rotation or a lineup,” he said. “They’ve got the experience. They’ve been there before, both of them. Then you lean on that. Having said that, we know how busy (the front office) guys are looking for some help. But it’s not just going to be the average Joe coming in.

“You’re thinking it’s going to be a meaningful piece, but the competition on the premium people is going to be real stiff and it already is.”

The Giants have watched as good prospects have been shipped away in early deals, and they know the ask on an Andrew Miller or someone similar will be astronomical and somewhat system-depleting. They’ll see Miller this weekend, along with Aroldis Chapman, who was suspended 30 games earlier this season for a violation of MLB’s domestic violence policy. The sense from Giants officials at the moment is that the incident hasn’t eliminated Chapman as an option. Asked about the type of addition he would prefer, Sabean described a pitcher who can get a strikeout in a big spot, someone who sounds very much like Chapman. 

“The (way) the game is played now you want swing-and-miss,” Sabean said. “We got away with it a long time — and to their credit — with a lot of contact relievers. But the game has kind of changed in front of us. Now that wouldn’t preclude you from getting somebody that was as such, but selfishly you would want somebody that could really get through an inning and not have much flak in getting through the inning.”

Miller averages 15.24 strikeouts-per-nine and Chapman, who hit 105 mph earlier this week, is also elite at 12.71.

There are others on non-contending teams — like Milwaukee’s Tyler Thornburg or San Diego’s Ryan Buchter — who fit the strikeout mold, but not the rest of the wish list. The Giants have checked in on Philadelphia (David Hernandez has that kind of power stuff) and they could find a strikeout arm on a sinking team in their division; The Diamondbacks still have Tyler Clippard and Daniel Hudson available after dealing Brad Ziegler. 

But the Giants are aiming higher, and while they're unlikely to trade off their 25-man roster they won’t completely rule it out. Team president and CEO Larry Baer said there is wiggle room in the budget, even with the Giants already paying the competitive balance tax. The bigger issue will be what is being sent back for an impact player. 

“You know you’re going to hurt somewhere, it’s just how much pain you’re going to take,” Sabean said. “I think you’re seeing in some of these trades, the people who have been really aggressive have really gotten a premium guy back. That’s really what you have to decide — what side of the fence you want to be on.”

Regardless of where they end up, the Giants feel the current bullpen group will be better down the stretch. Sabean noted that the pecking order was out of whack when Romo went on the DL, and he said “we knew that (Josh) Osich and (Hunter) Strickland would have growing pains.

“When you don’t have that second guy and somebody like Casilla can’t pitch or he falters, you don’t really know where to turn,” he said, adding that manager Bruce Bochy turned to the matchups. “Having said that, I think things have a chance to settle down.”

Giants Review: After starting Opening Day, Blach finds home in bullpen

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USA TODAY Sports

Giants Review: After starting Opening Day, Blach finds home in bullpen

SAN FRANCISCO — No matter what else happens in his career, Ty Blach will always be the subject of a good trivia question. 

Who started on Opening Day for the San Francisco Giants in 2018?

It was not Madison Bumgarner, the franchise’s ace. It was not Johnny Cueto, who looked like a Cy Young candidate before his elbow started aching, or Jeff Samardzija, who was coming off a strong year. It was not Derek Holland, the former top prospect, or youngsters Dereck Rodriguez or Andrew Suarez, who may look back at 2018 as the year long big league careers started. 

It was Blach, the quiet third-year left-hander who wasn’t even supposed to be in the rotation. Bumgarner and Samardzija went down on back-to-back days late in the spring and Cueto’s schedule didn't line up, so Bruce Bochy turned to Blach, the latest profiled in this series looking back at the 2018 Giants. 

If you missed it earlier, here are reviews for Kelby Tomlinson and Chase d'Arnaud. 

What Went Right: Blach entered the season with a 2.23 ERA in seven appearances against the Dodgers, so it wasn’t really a surprise when he threw five shutout innings on Opening Day. When Joe Panik homered, Blach had a win over Clayton Kershaw. He became the first Giant other than Bumgarner, Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum to start on Opening Day since Barry Zito did so in 2008. 

Blach had a 4.25 ERA for the season but his numbers were much better out of the bullpen. In 34 relief appearances, Blach compiled a 3.17 ERA. Opposing hitters had an OPS that was nearly 100 points lower when Blach came out of the bullpen, and his strikeout rate jumped from a microscopic 4.9 K/9 as a starter to 6.7 as a reliever. Among NL pitchers who threw at least 50 relief innings, only San Diego’s Robbie Erlin did so in fewer appearances than Blach, who pitched 54 innings in 34 relief appearances. 

What Went Wrong: You don’t dream of being a long reliever, but Blach was moved out of the rotation after posting a 4.90 ERA through 12 starts and failing to complete at least six innings in eight of those starts. Opposing hitters had a .788 OPS against Blach the starter, and he was weirdly equal-opportunity; lefties hit him at a .289 clip in 2018 and righties batted .288. 

When Blach was not on his game, he was so hittable that he couldn’t live up to the long reliever role in those outings. Opposing hitters batted .451 when they put the first pitch in play and hit .343 against Blach with runners in scoring position. Among NL pitchers who threw at least 100 innings, only Homer Bailey allowed a higher opponents’ batting average than Blach. 

Contract Status: Blach made $5.65 million in 2018 and is not arbitration eligible until 2020. He did use an option, though, despite never pitching in the minors. Blach was optioned on July 25 and then recalled the next day when Brandon Belt went on the DL. It was a mistake by the front office, and it cost the Giants a second option year on Blach, who has one option remaining. 

The Future: Blach, 27, isn’t in the rotation plans any longer, but he could still carve out a nice niche as a long reliever who can spot-start. In today’s game, there’s a lot of value in being a left-handed reliever who can pitch two or three innings out of the bullpen and save your manager from burning others. Blach warms up quickly, has never had injury issues and bounces back well from outings, and he should be in next year’s bullpen as Bochy’s long man. 

Giants Review: Chase d'Arnaud takes the mound in sixth big league stop

Giants Review: Chase d'Arnaud takes the mound in sixth big league stop

SAN FRANCISCO — Everywhere the Giants went in the second half, Chase d’Arnaud seemed to know somebody. The visiting team usually stretches while the home team is finishing batting practice, and it was a common sight to see d’Arnaud walk over and chat with a former teammate or coach. 

Part of that is d’Arnaud’s personality. He’s as energetic and friendly as any ballplayer. But part of that is also the fact that, well, d’Arnaud has played with a lot of different teammates. The Giants were d’Arnaud’s sixth organization in the last five seasons, and he ended up getting 100 big league plate appearances. Here’s a rundown of the highs and lows … 

What Went Right: Look, the numbers don’t lie — d’Arnaud tied Pablo Sandoval and 18 others for the NL lead in ERA. That's a fact. He took the mound for the first time on August 19 in Cincinnati and recorded three flyouts while giving up a single. With that inning, d’Arnaud — like Sandoval — finished the year with a 0.00 ERA. He joined Sandoval and Matty Alou as the only position players in franchise history to pitch a scoreless inning.

With three homers, including two that gave the Giants a lead, d’Arnaud set a new career-high. He reached 100 plate appearances for just the third time as a big leaguer, playing every position but catcher and outfield. 

What Went Wrong: d’Arnaud hit .273 in his first 14 games but had just eight hits in 49 at-bats the rest of the way. All three of his homers came in that first stretch, and over the season’s final two months he had just three extra-base hits. The way to make your mark off the bench is to come through as a pinch-hitter, and he was just 1-for-15 in those situations with 10 strikeouts. 

Overall, d’Arnaud posted a .215/.253/.366 slash line. He showed off his speed in spring training, but at the big league level he had just two stolen bases. 

Contract Status: After signing a minor league deal last winter, d’Arnaud has gathered enough service time to be arbitration eligible. MLB Trade Rumors projects that he’ll make $800,000 if he goes through that process. 

The Future: It seems a no-brainer that d’Arnaud will be non-tendered by the Giants. They have younger, cheaper options as infield depth and they need his 40-man roster spot. D’Arnaud did everything that was asked of him and was good in the clubhouse (he does an amazing job of interacting with fans, too), but the Giants invite two or three middle infield non-roster invitees to camp every year and will do so again. Perhaps d’Arnaud will be part of that mix in 2019, or perhaps he’ll continue his tour, adding a seventh big league hat to the collection.