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The Giants aren’t planning to ‘overhaul’ their bullpen, and they shouldn’t

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Expect an improved Giants bullpen, but don't look for a dramatic overhaul. Because they don't need one.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants were just eliminated from the postseason because of one of the worst bullpen collapses in MLB history. They blew an eight-game lead in the NL West in large part of this bullpen. Why, say, this might seem to be a consistent theme of the 2016 Giants and something they would want to address.

At the Giants’ end-of-year press conference, GM Bobby Evans said that "an overhaul (of the bullpen) would be a tremendous overstatement." Does this concern you? Are you not entertained? WHAT IN THE HECK ELSE CAN THE GIANTS POSSIBLY DO THIS OFFSEASON BUT OVERH

Sorry, sorry, still raw. But I think I can parse these statements and have everything make sense.

Point #1: The Giants will probably turn over a lot of the bullpen by default

Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, and Javier Lopez are all free agents after the World Series. I wouldn’t be surprised if they all moved on.

Certainly Casilla can find a fresh start with a fan base that would focus on his first six years with the Giants instead of his last four months. It’s probably best for him, and it’s probably best for the team. Don’t be surprised when he’s closing for, like, the Twins or something next year with an ERA under 2.00, and he becomes a hot trade target at the deadline. Those will be fun rumors.

Romo will probably make more sense with another bullpen, surrounded by relievers who don’t need to be sheltered in platoon situations. The biggest problem with the Giants this year wasn’t bad relievers, but relievers who just weren’t complementary to each other. Romo exacerbated that problem, allowing left-handed hitters to hit for more power than right-handers again. I wouldn’t mind him back with a couple additional acquisitions, but it’s hard to see him coming at the right price.

Lopez will be missed, but it seems pretty likely that the Giants will go with a Will Smith/Steven Okert combination next year, with the only competition coming from Josh Osich.

That’s three spots, at least, and it seems extraordinarily likely that one of them will be filled with a very expensive closer.

Point #2: The Giants will still have a young bullpen core in place

Derek Law had a marvelous rookie season, and only fatigue and/or injury kept him from taking over the closer’s role in September. As long as he’s healthy next year, there isn’t any reason not to expect him to play a very important role in whatever kind of bullpen the Giants build.

Also, he wave rag good.

Thank you for wave rag good, Derek Law. Much better than wave rag bad.

Hunter Strickland was fine, if a little less unexciting than hoped. He had his second straight year of allowing two fewer home runs over a full season than he did in the 2014 postseason. It’s possible — possible! — that everyone overreacted to a small sample in 2014 and should all be ashamed of themselves. He might not be the future closer or he might not be the setup man of 2017, but he’s a pre-arbitration arm with solid numbers and high-’90s velocity. And his slider looked much improved this year, even if it didn’t show up in the strikeout rate. He stays, obviously.

Will Smith is young and talented, and even if I don’t understand why he was frequently overlooked after coming over in a very costly trade, the Giants acquired him as much for the next couple years as they did for 2016. He’ll be the key lefty setup man, and he should be.

I don’t understand how George Kontos is successful either, considering his run prevention has stayed steady while his walk and strikeout rates have gotten worse. But his run prevention is above-average, and he’s entering his second year of arbitration, which means he shouldn’t be too expensive. He’s a good, low-cost option for the exact role he filled this year, which is the pitcher who would come in the sixth or seventh without seeing too many high-leverage situations. There’s no need to pay someone millions more for the same gig.

There will be a bloody battle between Steven Okert and Josh Osich in the spring, with both of them having a strong argument for the second lefty spot. Okert struck out 14 of the 58 batters he faced in the majors (24.1 percent), though, while Osich struck out just 25 of the 159 batters he faced (15.7 percent), so Okert might have the advantage going into the spring.

Cory Gearrin is an interesting case, considering that he’s also affordable and arb-eligible. If you ignore the belches after he returned from the DL (or just look at his FIP instead of his ERA), he looks like a fine pitcher for the back end of the bullpen. And there’s this:

He’s a funky reliever with plenty of upside. Hard to see the Giants ditching that kind of bargain to spend money elsewhere.

So I’d put the bullpen as looking something like this:

Definitely coming back and part of the bullpen foundation
Law
Strickland
Smith
One of Okert/Osich

Possibly coming back because of their contract status and relative success
Kontos
Gearrin

That’s six pitchers. And now you see why the word "overhaul" didn’t seem like the right one for Evans to use.

With a 13-man staff, though, that will leave at least two open spots, which could be filled hypothetically with ...

  • A closer making a billion dollars
  • Another proven reliever making just under a billion dollars

Will the Giants get relief help? Yes. Yes, they will. But is it unfortunate that they’re not planning to overhaul the entire mess? Not really. Think of a roster where Strickland is your fourth-best reliever — fifth if you count Will Smith — and it would make the bullpen seem like a strength, not a liability.

The trick is getting those two relievers who can take the pressure off everyone else.

[phone rings]

BAER: Hello? Right now? It’s three o’clock in the ... I know, but ... right, right, I’m sorry, I’ll be right over.

BAER: [grabs coat]

BAER: [at store, buying Pop Tarts for Mark Melancon]

BAER: There's got to be a better way.

That’s the trick, alright. Everyone knows what the Giants want, and they’ll have to pay many pieces of eight to make it happen. But they aren’t calling it an overhaul because it probably won’t be.