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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Remaining FA's that could help SF

Well, we're about halfway through the MLB offseason and what few big name free agents that were out there have started to find homes, leaving just a select few options remaining for teams looking for help, including the San Francisco Giants.

The Giants completed their primary objective with the Melancon signing earlier this month, but have yet to address left field or add any other veteran arms into their bullpen mix. I recently scoured over the list of remaining free-agents and although there doesn't appear to be a left field answer waiting for them right now, there are still a couple of guys that I think can come in and compete for a roster spot and legitimate playing time if not a starting gig. I went ahead and composed a short list with a brief description on each player and how they may be able to fit in with the Giants.

Jose Bautista OF: We'll start with the only remaining right-handed power bat capable of playing the outfield on a regular basis (sorry but Trumbo in left at AT&T would not be a good fit long term). If the Giants would be willing to sacrifice some defense for offense out there, then he could be their guy (if he's willing to take a one year deal). He's gonna hit for power wherever he goes, but the Giants big selling point to him should be to come over for a year and take a shot at winning a tittle. He could see them as more likely to reach World Series then his other suitors and may be willing to give the Giants a try for a year. A big year or a World Championship could put him in even better position next winter too. He wanted 5/$150M before the season, but now he'll be lucky to get half of that after a major, major drop-off in production from '15 to '16. Still the most exciting bat on market not named Trumbo and better defensive fit although neither would be great out there.

Luis Valbuena, UT: The Giants have Connor Gillepsie under team control, but could view Valbuena as an upgrade. He's got more pop than Gillespie, although Connor's postseason heroics may have cemented his spot on the '17 roster. Still though, Valbuena is the type of bat any manager would love to have at his disposal as he's capable of lift-off every time he steps up. Sort of the left-handed version of Juan Uribe, and remember how big he was at times for this club for 2010's World Series run! Valbuena could really give Boch some flexability though. He could move Nunez into left field and play Valbuena at third if need be or even use Valbuena or Nunez over at 2nd should Panik's struggles/injuries return in '17. For a guy who won't break the bank and can do a number of things for you, Valbuena is certainly an intriguing player.

Rajai Davis, OF: The Giants are losing Gregor Blanco, and Rajai Davis would be a fine choice and an upgrade in his vacated role. He can play all three outfield positions well, and while he doesn't usually hit for much power, he has a propensity for the big hit and still is one of the faster players in the game. He could find himself a starting job somewhere but if he wants to contend he may have to settle for a 4th outfield spot. He is going on 37 years of age but still plays like he's 28, leading the AL in steals in '16 and showing he still has plenty in the tank. I mean, right now, Gorky's Hernandez is lined up to take over Blanco's former role and this is the type of area the Giants usually overlook and it usually costs them. Say Denard Span, who's no spring chicken, goes down for two months with some bad hamstring tear or something? Nobody else on the current roster can play center on a daily basis besides Hernandez and I'd much rather roll with Rajai.

Jae-gyun Hwang, LF/3B: He's a interesting guy because scouts compare him favorably to Ben Zobrist, who the Giants loved and tried desperately to sign last winter before he wound up in Chicago. Hwang is 29 years-old, and like Zobrist, hits for moderate power, good average, has a good eye at the plate, provides some speed and can play all over the field, but he's not necessarily a standout star. From what I hear, he could be a .285/15 HR/15 SB type with decent run production depending on where he hits in the lineup. It seems like more and more serviceable big league talent is surfacing from Asia and although the Giants don't usually get involved in international free agents like this, but look at how effective Jung Ho Kang was in Pittsburgh last year and if Hwang can produce on that level he'd be well worth the investment.

As for the remaining arms, obviously they aren't looking at any starting pitchers, but there are a few bullpen guys who I would certainly take on this team in an instant. Gone are Romo, Casilla and Lopez and so far, they have replaced them with just Melancon. I still think they need at least one more proven arm down there to help Melancon out even though Derrick Law is lining up to be the 8th inning guy and Hunter Strickland is coming off a very nice year as well. However, what happens if Strickland struggles and Law, who's had injury problems in his career, hit speed-bumps? This bullpen would be up a creek without a paddle to say the least. Ideally, I'd like to see another late inning right-hander added to the mix as well as a lefty specialists a la Javier Lopez of 2010.

Brad Zieglar, RHP: He's a guy who's been about as consistent as they come over the last half decade, but as he approaches 40 his luck is bound to run out sooner than later. I think he'd be worth a dice roll for the Giants, as he could provide some veteran stability to what is now a very young and in-experienced pen. Derick Law and Hunter Strickland will compete for the set-up role, but neither has carried that role full-time and the Giants got into trouble last year with lack of depth in the pen and not having guys with defined roles. Zieglar could be that low-stress, steady as a rock 8th inning guy much like Romo's been with the Giants and in very similar style as well. Plus the Giants have lost a lot of veteran leadership now down in that pen and could really use another guy like Zieglar who can be a leader.

Jerry Blevins, LHP: After the 2014 season Javier Lopez's production took a nose-dive and the Giants haven't been able to find that "LOOGY" through their farm. I'm not a big Josh Osich guy as I think he's had ample time to prove himself and hasn't done a whole lot. Okert is intriguing, but I would feel a lot more comfortable with Blevins in the mix with the old Lopez role while Will Smith hopefully has a good year and sort of rekindles the Jeremy Affeldt slot and then things would be OK I think.

J.P. Howell, LHP: See Blevins above. Whether it's Howell or Blevins, SF could still use that one, proven left-hander to come in and get an Adrian Gonzalez, Corey Seager or Carlos Gonzalez out when needed. Again Smith's stats actually favor him facing righties more, hence the reason I see a need for one of these two. Maybe Osich or Okert eventually become that, but for a team with aspirations like the Giants', they need all the sure-fire talent they can fit onto their roster. Travis Wood is another guy who you could put in this mix too.

Drew Storen, RHP: Now he and the next guy are more reclamation projects. Storen had a dreadful first half of 2016, but finished strong and could provide a legit set-up man to Melancon and a strong veteran presence in the ladder stages of the game. Strickland and Law have the ability to be that guy, but you can never have too many good relievers and Storen's an under-30 guy who's notched a few 35+ save seasons on his resume.

Daniel Hudson, RHP: I saved the best potential set-up guy for last. Hudson is really the guy I'd like to see brought in along with one of the lefties listed above to really make this bullpen a strength. I like George Kontos, but I think they can upgrade. I didn't quite get the rush to re-sign Cory Gearin either, but I suppose that wouldn't detour the Giants from a guy like Hudson if they had a legit chance at getting him. Outside of the three closers, Hudson is the consensus next best reliever on the market so he may be priced out of the Giants range but I really think they need a player like this. Look at all those guys who were throwing 95+ the Cubs and Indians where throwing out there. The Giants need more of those guys. They have one in Strickland but that's about it. Speaking of Indians' relievers, Hudson's career path has sort of followed that of now phenom relief ace Andrew Miller. Former top starting prospects with huge stuff that never translated in the rotation, but could translate great in releif.... Just sayin'!

Wild Card Relievers: RHP Greg Holland and RHP Neftali Feliz: Both these guys are likely going to take a one-year, make good deal and really try to cash in next winter with a solid season. Holland has been an elite closer with a heater in the high-90's but TJ Surgery has taken a few MPH off his fastball and he still hasn't found a team to bite on him since his showcasing in November. Feliz is coming off a decent year and was once a highly touted reliever who is still just 28 years of age, but he showed why nobody trusts him to close full-time with his bad second half. That being said, if you got one of these guys and they turned out to be pitch closer to their potential than not, they could have themselves a steal. Feliz would seem to be a better bet although having him and Hunter Strickland on the same roster with very similar stuff may seem redundant. Now had they not signed Gearin to that one year deal, I certainly think they could have used that spot to upgrade but what do I know? That's why I'm typing on this site rather than directing the Giants player personnel decisions. 

Of course Sergio Romo is out there too still, and on paper looks close to being as good as any of the guys I mentioned above, but I think we all saw Romo sort of hit a wall last season and I think he's only got so many seasons left with getting people out with his 85-mph sinker and 72-mph slurvy slider that's lost a lot of bite and quickness the last two seasons.

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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Giants find their closer but work remains

Pretty much ever since Brian Wilson went down with his shoulder injury at the start of 2012, the Giants have used a few different guys to close out games. Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla, career set-up guys, basically shared the duties, with Casilla becoming Bochy's #1 choice the last couple seasons. But after that epic second half collapse, largely attributed to that bullpen, and the team getting knocked out in the NLDS because of the bullpen, the Giants made solidifying that 9th inning as their number one priority this winter.

On Monday, the Giants finally found a guy they hope is their answer to their ninth inning woes that reared their ugly head in 2016, signing Mark Melancon to the richest contract in relief pitcher history (although both Kenly Jansen and Aroldis Chapman will most likely set new records after they sign). The Giants will pay the soon to be 32 year-old $62M over four years, which is right around what I thought he'd get. Chapman and Jansen are most likely looking at deals in the triple figures, so the $15.5M annually should be a bargain compared to the other two elite closing options. Not to mention, if you look at all three of their numbers over the last few seasons, aside from strikeout rate, Melancon has been neck-and-neck with those two. I would have loved to see the Giants pry Jansen away from LA, but I knew that would be a long-shot, so this move is the next best thing in my opinion. Chapman is flashy and hurls that 103-mph heater, but we saw him walk the tight-rope quite a bit in the postseason and blow a couple big saves, including one to the Giants in the NLDS that resulted in the Giants one and only win of the series.

Now, Melancon's numbers over the last four seasons are what got him this very lucrative deal, as they have been about as good as any relief pitcher in the game during that span. His highest ERA posted since the 2012 season has been 2.23 (2015) and in the other three seasons he's gone 1.39, 1.90 and 1.64 last season between Pittsburgh and Washington. During that span, he also posted a sub-1 WHIP in each season as he doesn't walk hitters and very rarely gives up the big fly. Since becoming a full-time closer in 2014, he's posted save totals of 33, 51 and 47 while blowing just 10. I don't have the exact number that the Giants blew last season but I'm pretty sure they blew 9 or 10 in September alone. All these reasons, along with him being a fine clubhouse personality and he being a good bet to age well over the course of the deal because he doesn't rely on a 100 MPH heater, are why many baseball people felt like he was the ideal fit for the Giants. Instead of the high-90's fastball/cutter like with Jansen or a 100-MPH laser beam and hard slider Chapman throws at you, Melancon can get you out in a number of different ways. For the most part, we'll be seeing a hard cutter in the low-90's as well as a big sweeping curveball though. He's got a change and a 4-seemer as well.

It's definitely a big sigh of relief for the Giants club and Giants fan alike. Their ninth inning problem is fixed and they did it without dueling out 100 million bucks or parting with half of their farm system. However, they still have question marks pertaining to that bullpen. I'd imagine that the plan is to roll with Derek Law as the primary set-up man with Hunter Strickland also getting an opportunity, but the Giants problem in the pen wasn't just with the closing situation. They struggled all over the place in the second half and although Melancon does change that landscape majorly, I think this pen could still use another sure fire arm or two. The need 2 guys like Romo and Casilla were back at the beginning of the Giants championship run, and strong left-handed presences like Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt (let's cross-our fingers that Will Smith's rough 2016 was just a down year and he's back to norm in 2017 cause that would help a ton).

There's still a long way to go in the offseason, and I expect the Giants to keep all options open regarding both left field and the bullpen, but it sure is a relieving feeling knowing they have a legit, premium closer now on the roster; the one thing many feel cost them their shot at another even year tittle. I personally think they needed another bat as well but who knows what a legit closer could have done with that bunch. They probably win the West and avoid the wild card game and maybe they avoid the Cubs all together or at least face 'em with home field advantage. Anyway you slice it though, that Cubs team seemed to have what other teams didn't this year and I don't know if any team was going to stop them. That was an epic postseason on the north side of Chicago. One very similar to the Giants' huge Fall in 2010, but only about 50+ more years in the making!
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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