SAN FRANCISCO -- For a team that's had so much trouble at times closing out games, the Giants have generally known what their plan was for the ninth inning. Whether it was Santiago Casilla or Sergio Romo or Mark Melancon or Will Smith, Bruce Bochy always had options. Sometimes they weren't great options, but he had a pretty good idea on the first day of every spring what his ninth inning should look like.
Gabe Kapler has his preferences right now, but as he follows in the footsteps of one of the game's all-time great bullpen managers, Kapler certainly has a much more wide-open field.
Tony Watson has 30 big league saves, but he wasn't as sharp as usual last season and doesn't have the power stuff you generally see from left-handed closers. Shaun Anderson was a closer in college and got a brief shot late last year, but there's a very limited professional track record as a reliever.
Sometimes we overstate how many competitions there truly are in spring training, but there's no doing that with this bullpen. Even Anderson, a 25-year-old with minor league options, is not a lock. Watson is the veteran and Trevor Gott will have an inside track if he's fully recovered from a UCL sprain, but with Reyes Moronta on the shelf for most of the year and the rest of the group mostly made up of young pitchers and non-roster invitees, there's a lot of uncertainty here for Kapler and new pitching coach Andrew Bailey.
"As open as it is, that'll start to reveal itself during camp, but I think competition is good," Bailey said on The Giants Insider Podcast last month. "We don't know how many actual spots are open or what have you, but I think guys that find themselves in that competition or in that competitive environment and get opportunities and take advantage of them, they can really make a name for themselves."
Over the last couple weeks, we broke down catchers, first basemen, second basemen, shortstops, third basemen, outfielders and starting pitchers, but good luck coming to any consensus about what the race to fill the eight-man bullpen looks like. Here, look at how some of the buckets of players look ...
Young starters who might be in the bullpen: Anderson, Andrew Suarez, Dereck Rodriguez, Conner Menez, Luis Madero, possibly Tyler Beede or Logan Webb
Veteran starters who might end up in the bullpen: Kevin Gausman, Drew Smyly, Tyler Anderson, Burch Smith
Inexperienced relievers who showed flashes in 2019 but also could start the year with Sacramento: Tyler Rogers, Sam Coonrod, Jandel Gustave, Sam Selman
That doesn't even cover all the relievers on the 40-man roster, or get to the ones who will be in camp as non-roster invitees. It doesn't include Wandy Peralta, a hard-throwing lefty who was picked up in September, or Melvin Adon, a prospect with the triple-digit fastball and power slider to move very, very quickly. It doesn't include Dany Jimenez, a Rule 5 pick who will get every opportunity to make the club, or Nick Vincent, who is back after making last year's Opening Day roster. That doesn't factor in the very real possibility that the Giants use an opener.
It's going to be a wild competition, one that likely results in dozens of bullpen roster moves during the year and potentially multiple closers. Watson seems the easy choice right now, but Anderson has the equipment and mindset to elevate to that role and Gausman could be the wild card in the ninth if he doesn't stick in the rotation.
Bailey, a former All-Star closer himself, said he doesn't feel the Giants need to have the pecking order set in the late innings. Teams have talked of doing that for years, but few have the guts to actually try it. Perhaps this coaching staff, young and innovative and facing an impossible climb in the NL West this year, will take some chances.
"I don't feel the necessity to have a set seventh, eighth, ninth-inning guy," Bailey said. "I think you look at leverage, you look at where we're at in the lineup, a lot of different things. Although I do believe that guys have their routines down in the bullpen and they're used to coming into certain situations, but at the end of the day they're used to leverage, they're used to the atmosphere, the environment, the adrenaline. That's kind of what they're used to."