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.
"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.
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."