How the Giants’ bullpen might look with new closer Mark Melancon


The Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, OK now back to Romo era … is over.

The Giants wanted a “real” closer, a pitcher who would never be confused with a setup guy or someone who might need to be paired up with another reliever who throws from the other side to get through a stressful ninth inning. The price (in terms of dollars, sure, but the PR hit might have been even more prohibitive) attached to Aroldis Chapman was too high. It would’ve been nice to get Kenley Jansen, because his stuff is nastier than Melancon’s. But that means Jansen will probably draw higher contract offers as well, despite the fact that he’s a qualifying offer guy and the team that signs him will lose their first round draft pick unless he ends up back in L.A.

(In case you hadn’t heard, the new CBA changed the qualifying offer rules, lowering the punishment for signing those players away from other teams. Instead of a first-rounder, large market teams like the Giants that sign QO players will forfeit their second and fifth draft picks. But that starts next year.)

Melancon has seemed like a future Giant since July, so it’s no surprise that he’ll be the centerpiece of a press conference at some point within the next week.

The Giants had 43 saves and 30 blown saves as a team in 2015. Melancon had 47 saves while blowing only four.

The Giants had only one reliever who could be considered something close to automatic, and he ended up on the DL with an elbow strain in late-August. Their bullpen, which seemed shaky throughout most of the season, acted out like a sugar-drunk three-year-old at the very end when they barfed the equivalent of a 12-course dinner all over the AT&T Park mound in San Francisco’s last game of the 2016 season.

Some of the relievers who vomited will not be with the club next year. Casilla was the only guy Bruce Bochy didn’t trust enough to pitch in that fateful ninth and cried in the clubhouse afterward. After an excellent Giants career, he’ll probably be close to excellent again for another team next season (although I wouldn’t trust him in the ninth inning ever again unless there’s no other choice). Romo ended the year as the “closer,” but he was also the petulant face of a bullpen that felt thoroughly dissatisfied and possibly insulted, because Bochy’s lack of trust in them led him to mix-and-match throughout the year. Romo laughed openly after being pulled from games at least two times, and one of those times was in Game 4 against Chicago. Javier Lopez is a winning player, but his career may be over and if he continues it will almost certainly be somewhere else.

Folks who think about these things with a sabermetric bent believe that saving your best reliever for the times when you’re holding a lead in the ninth inning (or extras) is silly and a waste of resources, and at times that’s true. But it’s also an undeniable fact that relievers are creatures of habit and don’t like their routines changed. If they aren’t as well-compensated as starters, they at least want to their jobs to have some semblance of predictability. Not as much as a starter who goes every fifth day, but they want a window — Am I a sixth and seventh inning guy? Am I an eighth inning guy? Will I get to face more than one batter if I walk this dude?

In purchasing the services of Melancon, the Giants are paying for production and predictability. Bochy has to be pleased, as he never seemed quite satisfied with any of his closing options since Brian Wilson’s arm blew up, even though Romo and Casilla were more than adequate most of the time.

Let’s look at how he’ll arrange the rest of his bullpen pieces.

Long man: Ty Blach

I know, I know. I got caught up in it too. While Blach was tossing eight shutout innings against the Dodgers in the penultimate game of the regular season, I tweeted this:

But do these are the Giants. Do we really think they won’t give Matt Cain one last shot?

“O” Lefty Where Art Thou: Steven Okert (or Josh Osich, but probably Okert)

Okert probably has the edge over Osich because he was much better than Osich when he pitched in the majors. #analysis

Sixth and seventh innings: George Kontos, Hunter Strickland and Cory Gearrin

Doesn’t the bullpen look better already with Strickland pitching an inning or two earlier?

Eighth inning: Derek Law and Will Smith

I still think the ninth inning of Game 4 should’ve been Smith’s and Smith’s alone from the start. He was quietly the team’s best reliever over the last month of the season.

The more I look at the bullpen (which also could include guys like Osich, Chris Stratton, or even a wild card like Josh Johnson, Ray Black or Joan Gregorio if they pitch lights-out this spring), the more I can see some trade possibilities with this bunch. That could end up being their chosen path to get a power bat in left field like J.D. Martinez, who knows. Well, if guys like Strickland (straight fastball, not a bonafide closer), Osich (great arm, questionable focus/command) or Law (balky elbow) are considered valuable by other teams.

That’s a conversation for later. Like this afternoon, probably. For now, the bullpen suddenly looks a lot more settled with Melancon on board. $15.5 million per season is a hefty price (over $210K per inning if he maintains the workload he averaged over the past four seasons) for the third-best reliever on the market, but peace of mind rarely comes cheap.

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