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It’ll be harder for the Giants to revamp the bullpen than you think

The Giants have a clear mission this offseason. That doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to get it done, though.

Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to day three of a 145-day series about the Giants’ bullpen. If you want a list of free agent relievers, you can find that here. If you want to see how much the Giants can spend, you can find that here. But none of this makes any difference if the free agent relievers in question aren’t any good. Here’s an uncontroversial two-part thesis statement:

  1. The Giants need to improve their bullpen, not just tread water

  2. That means they’ll need to find better pitchers than the relievers who are leaving

Sounds simple. But it’s trickier than you might think. Javier Lopez was pretty bad this year, so it shouldn’t be too hard to improve on his performance. Santiago Casilla’s raw stats weren’t awful, but his timing sure was, and it shouldn’t be too hard to get a reliever who isn’t quite as destructive. But Sergio Romo was pretty good for the Giants when he was healthy. He was also an active member of the bullpen that fatally collapsed, which means that he alone couldn’t fix it.

Adding a Romo-caliber pitcher to the bullpen isn’t going to turn a liability into a strength, and our proof is this: The Giants had a Romo-caliber pitcher last year.

So the Giants will need about two or three new relievers, including whomever they get from within the organization. It will be helpful to sort relievers into four tiers:

The elite

That would be Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, and Mark Melancon. It might just be Jansen if you’re not enamored of Melancon’s strikeout rate or Chapman being a goblin. All three would be huge, obvious upgrades to what the Giants featured in 2016, though.

Clearly better than Romo

Remember the premise. The Giants are trying to get better, not just stay the same. And if they miss out on the first tier, they’ll need to scramble to improve the bullpen in a different way. They’ll need the pitchers who aren’t quite elite, but still clear improvements over Romo.

I ... I think this is the full list:

  • Koji Uehara, maybe?
  • Brad Ziegler, probably?

That’s it. And you’re starting to see the problem.

Roughly equivalent to Sergio Romo

This is a tier that includes Sergio Romo! Wouldn’t mind him back, to be honest, even if he’s not the most versatile of pitchers anymore.

But this is a tier filled with all sorts of pitchers. Neftali Feliz is here. Joe Blanton is here, somehow. Joaquin Benoit. Pat Neshek. A healthy Greg Holland or Kevin Jepsen. Matt Belisle. Add and subtract as you see fit.

Are all of these pitchers going to have good seasons next year? No. Some of them will vanish into the thick reliever fog that claims so many careers. And a couple of them will have great seasons next year. We’ll look back in a year and think, "Well, shoot, the correct answer was Luke Hochevar, who is now the most dominant right-handed reliever in baseball. Luke Hochevar. Ugh, should have guessed."

Assorted goofballs

Hey, don’t besmirch the goofballs. Blanton was in here last year. Andrew Miller was just a failed prospect when the Red Sox got their hands on him a few years back. Casilla had a disappointing year in 2016, sure, but he was a former minor-league free agent who gave the Giants several great seasons, too. The Giants will be aggressive with these kinds of pitchers, and they’ve been pretty good about cobbling together a bullpen from spare parts.

You just know that they’re not going to count on this method of roster-building. Not this time. The expectations are too high, and every casual fan and person at the water cooler knows they need to improve the bullpen. There might be one assorted goofball who impresses in the spring and makes the roster. There should not be several.

Long post short? If the Giants want to feel like they’ve built an unambiguously stronger bullpen, they’ll have to fight for four or five pitchers that every other team will want. And the contract they’ll offer will make you spit out a drink you thought you were finished with hours ago. The ideal template will probably look something like ...

CL: Elite free agent
SU: Derek Law
SU: Sergio Romo-type free agent
SU: Hunter Strickland
SU: George Kontos/Cory Gearrin
LHP: Will Smith
LHP: Steven Okert/Josh Osich
Long: Ty Blach, Matt Cain, Albert Suarez, etc.

The key? Getting one of Jansen, Chapman, or Melancon. If they can’t do that, it’s going to be someone like Ziegler and a whole bunch of crossed fingers. That was the plan before last year, and at the risk of spoiling some of the games you have on your DVR, it didn’t work out.

Considering the Giants can’t just walk into the Jansen, Chapman, or Melancon Store and pick something off the shelf, the odds are lower than you think for them to make a clear, unmistakable upgrade.

Buckle up. This offseason doesn’t have to be fun, you know.