Why Giants might not name their closer before end of spring training

Why Giants might not name their closer before end of spring training

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants finally will play a baseball game Saturday, getting Gabe Kapler one step closer to the day when he'll have to make quick decisions in the late innings of a close game. Kapler is replacing the man who did that better than anyone, and he'll be at an immediate disadvantage. 

Bruce Bochy had a Core Four for a while, but even in his final year he entered the season with Will Smith, Tony Watson, Sam Dyson, Reyes Moronta and Mark Melancon set as late-innings options. Watson still is here. After that, it's rookies, non-roster invitees and a collection of starters who may only be able to make this club as versatile relievers. 

The Giants plan to lean into that, and there's a chance the Opening Day bullpen primarily is made up of guys who can go three innings at a time. But you still need a closer, someone who will take the ball with a one-run lead in the ninth. You still need that one person that everyone else works to get the lead to.


Maybe not. 

"If somebody grabs hold of that position and makes it unequivocally clear that that person is the right player for that role, sure, I think there's some value in naming a closer," Kapler said. "If it doesn't work out that way, it's interesting -- flexibility works both ways. We have to be flexible enough to say right now we don't have to name somebody a closer. I think that decision will be made for us as we go through camp."

The Giants have one obvious candidate, Watson, who saved 30 games for the Pirates but has not done it in two seasons in San Francisco. Shaun Anderson got a taste late last year and has expressed an interest in closing, but the Giants are stretching the former top prospect out as a starter right now. Trevor Gott is making interesting adjustments this spring and was a closer in college and the minors, but he has just one big league save.

The Giants want Gott to be versatile enough to pitch at any time, too, and they could find that Anderson and Watson, or other incumbents, are best used in higher-leverage spots. For years, teams have talked about the fact that it doesn't really make sense for your best reliever to be kept on ice until the ninth. The Giants could be poised to actually go all-in on that method.  

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Regardless, team executives quietly are optimistic about the group. They believe they've put together a collection of good arms, and Andrew Bailey, Ethan Katz and Brian Bannister have received strong early reviews for the work they're doing in altering pitch mixes and grips. A young bullpen doesn't necessarily have to be a bad one. It also doesn't have to be one with a set hierarchy. 

"I think the game is changing dramatically and relievers know that there are fewer of those surefire 'you're the seventh, eighth and ninth (inning) guy' throughout baseball," Kapler said. "Those are actually more rare now than anything else. I do think players in general like to know their role and in a perfect world we can lay that out for them. We don't have relievers in our 'pen that are married to any role and I think that's fun and unique about our camp. We don't have one reliever that has to pitch in any particular role."

Giants release several veterans, including lefty reliever Jerry Blevins


Giants release several veterans, including lefty reliever Jerry Blevins

Major League Baseball put a freeze on transactions when an agreement was reached between MLB and the Players Association, but before that happened the Giants reportedly released several veterans, including one who came to camp with a decent shot at winning a job. 

Left-hander Jerry Blevins was one of 17 players released by the organization between March 1 and April 1, according to Baseball America. Blevins, who has pitched in the big leagues for 13 seasons, had allowed nine earned runs in 3 2/3 Cactus League innings before baseball went on break because of COVID-19. He entered camp with a shot at winning a job as a lefty in the bullpen, but the Giants got dominant spring performances from Wandy Peralta and Jarlin Garcia, who should join Tony Watson whenever the season resumes. 

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The Giants also released right-hander Matt Carasiti, who was throwing well in camp before his elbow flared up, leading to Tommy John surgery. Rehabbing pitchers often re-sign with the team on a different contract, although it's unclear if the plan is for Carasiti to do that. Brandon Guyer also stood out on the list. The veteran was signed as a depth outfielder who can hit lefties well, although he was not in big league camp. 

The others released were right-handers Jamie Callahan, Israel Cruz, Dylan Davis, Logan Harasta, Trevor Horn, Andy Rohloff and Ben Strahm; lefty Deiyerbert Bolivar; catcher Chris Corbett; second baseman Kyle McPherson; and outfielders Gio Brusa, Mikey Edie, Jose Layer and Randy Norris. Brusa. 

Blevins and Carasiti were the only players on the list who were in big league camp. 

Giants GM Scott Harris explains how he envisions outfield this season

Giants GM Scott Harris explains how he envisions outfield this season

Every great athlete, every great coach and every great team wants consistency from their performance every game. That doesn't mean there has to be consistency in the lineup. 

Giants manager Gabe Kapler might not go more than two or three games of trotting out the same lineup when baseball eventually returns. Kapler is a master at wanting to get the best out of his players and the nine men he puts on the field. The skipper will platoon players, no matter how many years they have in the big leagues. 

General manager Scott Harris and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi were tasked with signing players for Kapler to deploy. One of the biggest questions for the manager is how he will use a handful of outfielders. 

Harris believes the Giants' roster sets up nicely for Kapler to get the best out of his guys. 

"We're trying to give Gabe the ability to match up and a great example of that is left field," Harris said Thursday on KNBR's "Murph & Mac" show. "Hunter Pence and Alex Dickerson really complement each other and we can deploy them in the right situation and come to the plate with favorable matchups and hopefully see some success out of it.

"We're gonna be able to throw out some very different lineups against left-handed pitching and right-handed pitching." 

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Pence, a right-handed hitter crushes left-handed pitching. The four-time All-Star hit .327 with eight homers against lefties last year with the Texas Rangers. Dickerson, a left-handed hitter, knocked all six of his dingers against right-handed pitchers last year. 

Kapler also will have to figure out how and when to use players like Mike Yastrzemski, Mauricio Dubon, Jaylin Davis, Austin Slater and Bill Hamilton. Davis often gets lost in the conversation after a slow start this spring and struggling after his MLB debut last season. The powerful right-handed bat hit 35 (!) long balls last season and Harris made it clear the Giants believe in him. 

"We're really excited about him and think he has a really bright future," Davis said. 

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Kapler and the Giants have plenty of questions to be answered this season -- if a season is played -- but his lineup likely will have a different answer every few games.