Mark Melancon in Orange and Black.
Got your attention?
Bullpen talk must have a wounded Bay Area triggered. The Giants lost first place in the NL West and Game 4 of the NLDS due to, in large part, the team’s undefined and inconsistent bullpen roles.
You’ve heard it all before, and at the most devastating times, so it may be hard to believe that all is not lost.
Under the dirty mess of arms Bruce Bochy unleashed–or kept quiet on the bench– in that fateful ninth inning alone sat a pearl of a fully functioning bullpen.
Bochy told reporters in the aftermath that he could see the upward trajectory of his young relievers. Finding a guy that can get the final three outs–through free agency, trade or the organization, even–will be an offseason priority.
The Nationals rented Melancon out for a postseason run in 2016, but the closer has to be target numero uno for the Giants this offseason. Melancon recorded 47 saves with Pittsburgh and the Nats, with a mid-90s fastball/cutter and a mid-80s curveball.
Melancon is gettable and is an actual proven closer. Imagine the stability.
Core four no more
Jeremy Affeldt finished his career with a .86 postseason ERA, ranked just behind only Mariano Rivera, Harry Brecheen and Wade Davis. As a Giant, Javier Lopez had a 1.38 ERA in the postseason. Sergio Romo held a 2.11 ERA through 2014. Santiago Casilla hadn’t given up a run in 14 consecutive postseason appearances.
Let’s remember how the Giants got those three World Series titles in the first place. Bochy had a core group of tested relievers he could fall back on.
Affeldt retired. The three others are free agents in 2017. Two of them gave up a run in that fateful ninth inning (one of them blew the Giants’ 31st save the night before). One of them wept when he wasn’t used.
It might be the end for all three of the remaining four. 39-year-old Javier Lopez indicated that he wasn’t ready to retire, but didn’t know what the future held.
Romo said he wants to stay a Giant, but never had the chance to re-grip the closer role he held just four years ago.
Casilla seems to be on a different page from his manager — unafraid to get angry or cry when it was clear Bochy didn’t trust him, or, didn’t want to feel the wrath of an angry crowd when his decision to use him backfired. I think Bochy has been doing this long enough to rise above an emotional fanbase, though.
The unsuccessful even year was a clear mark of a dying era — the second-half, postseason collapse a side effect of a bullpen in transition.
Young guns and newbies
If the Melancon dream falls through, and what remains of the core four depart, the Giants have options. Bobby Evans told reporters he was open to trade for a closer, though it’s unclear how much more they’d have to sacrifice for another arm in this market. Will Smith alone cost them Phil Bickford and Andrew Susac.
Derek Law and Hunter Strickland are the most probable candidates within the system to take over as closers. Both have swing-and-miss stuff, both have dabbled in the ninth-inning puddle, both have endured character-building meltdowns– both in the regular season and in the postseason.
Law was having a breakout year before his velocity started to drop without explanation and the Giants put him on the DL with a strained right elbow. He held a 1.94 ERA with a .212 opponents average before the DL stint. He gave up two home runs all season and held a .73 WHIP against lefties, 1.12 against righties.
Strickland had an uneven 2016, posting a 3.10 ERA and 1.131 WHIP. He gave up four home runs, walked nine and struck out 57 batters this year.
2016 was a growing year for the pair, but Bochy exhibited a strong vote of confidence in both of them during the late innings. They could be closers, they could be solid bridges.
Smith will be the go-to LHR in late innings. It took a bit for Bochy to warm up to ‘Smitty,’ but he’s the type of arm Bochy will go to for an entire inning. Righties hit .197 off him, lefties. 229.
A dark, even year winter won’t require a bullpen overhaul, Bochy and Evans told reporters, despite the mess those arms seemed to create.
What’s clear is that the Giants think they have a strong, talented squad. But they’ll need a bullpen to keep their wins.