Mark Melancon

How Giants' Mark Melancon trade helped set up team's future success

How Giants' Mark Melancon trade helped set up team's future success

For most of the last decade, the release of the MLB schedule wasn't all that dramatic for Giants fans. The organization loved to hold onto its own, and it was rare that a big name would end up elsewhere and the first matchup would be a story. 

That's changed the last couple of seasons, and Friday's game certainly would have been one that came with some juicy storylines. The Giants were supposed to be in Atlanta tonight, facing a Braves club that has built its bullpen around a pair of former Giants, Will Smith and Mark Melancon. 

The game was simulated on PlayStation's "MLB: The Show" and aired on NBC Sports Bay Area on Friday, and it was a somewhat familiar feeling for any Giants fans tuned in. The digital version of Melancon gave up a long two-run homer to virtual Hunter Pence in what was a one-run game. The Giants won 7-4. 

In real life, this game would have been part of a tough three-city trip that would have determined a large part of the early-season direction for a franchise thats rebuild kicked into a higher gear when Melancon was dealt. 

It took a while for Farhan Zaidi to earn the trust of the fan base, but he made big strides last July 31, when he managed to get out from the roughly $18 million left on a contract that partly led to the ouster of his successor. Zaidi has been pushing to find financial flexibility since he got hired, and that move certainly helped. The Giants have given out just one multi-year deal -- Wilmer Flores at $6.25 million -- under Zaidi and expect to dive back into free agency in the coming years as their previous financial commitments are cleared. 

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The underrated part of that deal, though, was the return. Dan Winkler is no longer in the organization but the Giants are excited about 23-year-old right-hander Tristan Beck, a Stanford product who had a 2.27 ERA in six starts for San Jose after the trade. The Giants sent Beck to the Arizona Fall League, where he saw an uptick in velocity. Whenever the minor league season resumes, he should head to Double-A Richmond, joining Sean Hjelle and the next wave of pitching hopefully headed to Oracle Park. 

The Melancon deal set the Giants up nicely moving forward, and it also worked out for the veteran pitcher. In the last year of that massive four-year contract, he was preparing to team with Smith on a Braves club that would have entered this season as one of the favorites in the National League.

Relive most memorable Opening Day moments in Giants' storied history

Relive most memorable Opening Day moments in Giants' storied history

Major League Baseball announced that Thursday would now be "Opening Day at Home," with 30 games being shown across the league's platforms to make up for the lack of actual baseball on what was supposed to be the first day of the season. 

But apparently there are no Giants fans at the league office. 

There are four games airing on MLB Network, and a quick glance at the graphic shows why the schedule is particularly painful for Giants fans:

The first one is a game in which Matt Cain and Clayton Kershaw battled, before the Dodgers broke through with four runs in the eighth. Kershaw started that inning by taking George Kontos deep for the game's first run, then came back out and completed the shutout. Immediately after that, MLB Network will air the game where Madison Bumgarner hit two homers ... and then Mark Melancon blew the lead in his Giants debut. 

There have been plenty of happier times, though. On what was supposed to be Opening Day, here's a look at a few highlights from the franchise's many openers:

Madison Bumgarner

The Giants lost 6-5 that day when Melancon -- in the first appearance of a four-year, $62 million deal -- gave up four hits and coughed up a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. But it was still a memorable day, so much so that Bumgarner's new teammates were asking reporters about it when the arrived in camp last month.

Bumgarner gave up three earned in seven innings and struck out 11. He was perfect through five innings, but the real impact was made at the plate. Bumgarner lined one into the seats off Zack Greinke in the fifth and hit one 422 feet off Andrew Chafin in the seventh, becoming the first pitcher in MLB history to homer twice on Opening Day. 

Bumgarner set the franchise record for career homers by a pitcher that day. Both home runs left the bat at 112 mph, and at the time that meant Bumgarner had the four hardest-hit homers by a pitcher in the Statcast era and he joined Giancarlo Stanton as the only players to that point with two homers of 112-plus mph in one game.

“For us in the dugout, we’re just kind of shaking our heads,” catcher Buster Posey said after the game. “It’s not supposed to be that easy."

Bumgarner looked like an MVP candidate that day, but a few weeks later he crashed a dirt bike in Colorado. The Giants went on to lose 98 games, and you know how it's all turned out since. But that first day in 2017 remains one of the most jaw-dropping in franchise history. 

Barry Bonds

It was clear from the very first day that 2002 would be a special season for Barry Bonds and the Giants. At Dodger Stadium on April 2, Bonds took Kevin Brown deep in the second inning and hit a solo shot off Omar Daal in the seventh as the Giants won 9-2. David Bell also went deep and Livan Hernandez had a pair of hits while throwing eight strong innings against a Dodgers team that had current manager Dave Roberts leading off. 

Bonds had agreed to a five-year, $90 million deal that January. The late Peter Magowan, who was the team's owner back then, said "We believe we have the best player in the game signed with the Giants."

"He has a decent shot at the home run record of Hank Aaron, the runs scored record, the walks record and 3,000 hits," Magowan said after the deal was signed.

Bonds would go on to hit .370, winning the batting title for the first time, and post a .582 on-base percentage, breaking Ted Williams' record. He hit five homers over the first four days of the season and finished with 46. The Giants reached the World Series, losing in seven games to the Angels. 

Willie Mays

It comes as no surprise that Mays had several memorable openers. When Bumgarner and Bonds homered twice, they joined Mays (1964), Matt Williams (1994) and Bob Elliot (1952) as the only players in franchise history to pull off the feat in an opener. The Giants had five homers against the Milwaukee Braves in that 1964 game, which still stands as the franchise record for an opener. 

In 1962, Mays kicked off the season with a homer off future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn with his first swing of the year. Spahn had allowed Mays' first career homer 11 years earlier and he ended up giving up 18 homers to Mays, the most of any pitcher. 

Mays reached base in 19 of the 21 openers he played and had seven career Opening Day homers. 

Memorable pitching performances

One of the craziest things about that Bumgarner performance at Chase Field is that while it's remembered for the homers, he also set the franchise record for Opening Day strikeouts. Bumgarner and Juan Marichal (10 in 1962) are the only Giants with double-digit strikeouts on the first day of the season, and Marichal is far and away the most successful Opening Day starter in franchise history. 

Marichal started the opener 10 times and threw six complete games, including a couple of shutouts. He lost on Opening Day just twice, and in one of those games (1965 against the Pirates) he gave up a walk-off solo homer in the bottom of the 10th for the only run of the game. 

The most interesting Opening Day line in franchise history likely belongs to Carl Hubbell, who went 11 innings on April 16, 1933 in a 15-inning game that the Giants and Dodgers tied. And let's not forget Ty Blach, who stepped in on short notice in 2018 and threw five shutout innings as the Giants beat Kershaw.

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Joe Panik

Kershaw has faced the Giants on Opening Day twice and allowed one run over 15 innings, which is pretty much in line with what he's done in the rivalry games his whole career. But Panik got to him in the fifth inning on March 29, 2018, yanking a solo shot that was the only run of the game. 

What makes Panik's Opening Day homer so memorable, though, is what he did the next day:

Panik became the first MLB player to hit solo homers in back-to-back 1-0 wins and the Giants became the first team since the 1943 Reds to win their first two games of the season by a 1-0 score. 

“It’s a good feeling when you come into Dodger Stadium and you hit a homer and they start booing you in the ninth,” Panik said after the second homer. “That’s a good feeling.”

Prospect Giants acquired in Mark Melancon trade having lots of success

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Prospect Giants acquired in Mark Melancon trade having lots of success

PHOENIX -- The Mark Melancon trade proved to be a win-win for the Giants and the Braves, with one team getting nearly $20 million in salary relief and the other picking up a closer for a postseason run. But it was also a big win for one of the two pitchers the Giants got back in the deal.

Right-hander Tristan Beck grew up in Southern California and attended Stanford, where his brother currently is on the baseball team. The trade brought him much closer to home, allowed family members and college friends to watch him in San Jose, and put him in the California League, which has stops close to his hometown of Corona. 

"It was kind of overwhelming," Beck said Tuesday after an Arizona Fall League game. "There was a lot going on, but when it all settled, I was really happy to be coming back to the West Coast."

Beck already is familiar with Oracle Park, having gone to plenty of games while a student at Stanford. And he put that education to use while going over his background. 

"I grew up an Angels fan," he said, laughing. "I don't like the Dodgers one bit."

If all goes according to plan, the 23-year-old will soon get to face them. Beck has a 3.29 ERA through four starts in the Fall League, where he's teammates with Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos. After the trade, Beck posted a 2.27 ERA in six starts for San Jose, striking out more than a batter per inning and allowing just one homer. 

"When I came over they made the suggestion that I start using my four-seam up in the zone a little bit more and it really paid dividends," Beck said. "It felt a little bit more natural for me. Sometimes I struggle to keep the ball down at the knees, so letting the four-seam fly at the letters just led to a lot of success and let the curveball play off of that."

The curveball, a big 12-6 bender, is his out pitch and pairs well with a low 90s fastball. Beck is getting more comfortable with a two-seamer and has started throwing a slider in the Fall League. The raw stuff is not overwhelming, but scouts who watched Beck on Tuesday noted that he's advanced in his approach and simply knows how to pitch. 

That's always been the case for a right-hander who was drafted in the fourth round in 2018. Beck was so dominant at Corona High that he was projected as a first-rounder, but he advised teams that his commitment to Stanford was strong and he would not be signing. 

"I never thought I was going to be in that position, to be honest, but at the end of the day the draw to go to Stanford was just too great," said Beck, who has a mother and sister who are alums of the school. "I don't regret it one bit. I went to Stanford and I'm really happy with the time I spent there and what I got to do with teammates there.

"It was a good enough experience to propel me here. I'm in a good situation here."

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Beck was dealt to an organization without much starting depth at the upper levels of the minors, and he should be in position to start next season in Double-A. After making it back to the West Coast because of a deal that went through minutes before the deadline, Beck could find himself in Richmond, Virginia next April.

But that's no problem.

"You know what," he said, smiling. "It's Sacramento after that."