In a podcast with Buster Olney, Giants GM Bobby Evans talked about the Giants’ offseason and the new CBA. The most interesting part, for me, was this:
OLNEY: Would you anticipate, based on the information that you’ve gotten so far, that (getting a closer) will be something you solve through free agency or through trade?
EVANS: I think there’s a nice balance between both, it’s just they both have costs. Relative to a trade, you’re giving up in some cases one or more of your top prospects and then other prospects below that. In the way of free agency, it’s obviously an expenditure for a certain number of years that’s elevated, more on a supply and demand side.
That said, there are some middle-tier late-inning options as well that may not be as demanding as some of the bigger names.
Before some of you weirdos start in with the “There the Giants go again, not going after the big free agents again” — I know you’re out there, and I want to know if the Giants signed Ian Kennedy in your alternate reality — there’s always the chance that the big free agents don’t want to come to San Francisco for whatever reason. The team is still testing the waters ...
... but if Mark Melancon loves Washington for some reason, or if Kenley Jansen just can’t bear to leave Los Angeles, or if, ugh, Aroldis Chapman wants to be on the East Coast, it’s not like the Giants are going to sigh and give the job to Cory Gearrin. They’ll have to explore that middle tier.
Which means we should, too! What, exactly, is the middle tier when it comes to closers? We should probably figure that out, juuuuust in case.
The running gag around here is that Brad Ziegler already has a jersey and a locker, and there’s a reason for that: He’s clearly the most unexciting option among the proven closers. More than that, though, is he’s a reasonable option. He would save the Giants an extra $20 million to $60 million, depending on how much stock you put into the $90 million rumors for Jansen. They could buy a lot of nice players with that money.
Or, to put it another way, would you rather have Ziegler and Justin Turner, or Jansen and Jarrett Parker? I’m not advocating for one or the other because I’m not sure, either. I will say that closers who allow as much contact as Ziegler does give me the willies.
I’ve already written about Greg Holland and why he’s a fascinating option. He was throwing in the high-80s in his workout for teams, which means he still has some velocity to add if he wants to get back to his pre-Tommy John repertoire. It might happen, or it might not. All a team will need to do is spend millions of dollars in guaranteed money to find out.
Koji Uehara isn’t someone we’ve talked about a lot, but he’s on that Ziegler tier of “unexciting and completely reasonable.” He’ll be 42 years old, and he’s coming off an unspectacular year, but he struck out 12.1 batters for every nine innings he pitched last year, and his command has always been superb. He’s not a great bet for 60 innings, though, much less 80, so the Giants would probably like to explore other options first.
Neftali Feliz is a save away from 100 for his career, but he spent the previous four season climbing out of the depths of closer Hades. He finally got his strikeout pitch and health back last year with the Pirates in middle relief, but he would be a very risky patch for a team determined to get cost certainty.
Joe Nathan used to be a closer, alright, and I’m just seeing if you’re paying attention.
Fernando Rodney is perfect for the people who thought Santiago Casilla was just a little too predictable. He had a 0.31 ERA for the Padres before he was traded, and a 5.89 ERA for the Marlins after. He’ll be 40. Don’t say his name two more times, or he appears in the bullpen.
Jonathan Papelbon is still out there, y’all.
Jim Henderson strikes dudes out, and he was a closer once for the Brewers. He has a homer problem that AT&T Park might help, but we’re sort of stretching the definition of “middle tier” at this point.
Drew Storen went to college in the Bay Area! That sure is something.
Possible trade targets
Francisco Rodriguez comes with all the baggage of Aroldis Chapman, but a third of the talent at a tenth of the price. Hard pass.
Huston Street was so bad last year, that the Angels didn’t even bother moving him at the trade deadline, when most closers were being shopped for top prospects. Another hard pass.
David Robertson used to be a fine closer, but he was worse than Santiago Casilla last year, and he’s $25 million over the next two years. Let that sentence sink in for a bit. I’m still quite curious about him, but don’t forget just how powerful anecdotal evidence is. The reason you would trust Robertson more than Casilla is that you didn’t watch Robertson’s awful blown saves last season. That’s not a great reason.
Glen Perkins is a three-time All-Star for the Twins, but he blew out his shoulder and missed most of 2016. The Twins would be silly to trade him before he reestablishes his value, and the Giants would be silly to trade for him until then, too.
Joakim Soria used to be absolutely tremendous in the ninth inning, but then he got hurt, and he was more of a middle reliever for the Royals last year. He also wasn’t very good, walking more batters than he had in the past and allowing 10 home runs. He has experience, though, and the price is probably right.
Wade Davis is striking out far, far fewer batters than he used to, and he would cost more prospects than the Giants could afford, most likely. Be afraid. But curious. Mostly afraid, though, as I can’t imagine how painful the Giants’ prospect exodus would be.
Jeanmar Gomez is basically George Kontos with saves, as we’ve talked about in a similar post in July. Does that excite you? It does not.
Sean Doolittle is a fantastic feller who does a lot of forward-thinking charity work, and combines with Eireann Dolan for the best player-significant-other Twitter combo in professional sports. He also tweets pictures of himself at Ghost concerts. Do you think he reads my letters? I think we would be great friends.
He’s still rebuilding his value, though, after two injury-shortened seasons, and I would think the A’s are willing to gamble on him dominating in 2017 and being the belle of the deadline ball. If the A’s are reasonable in their demands, though, this is one of my favorite options. (Call me, Sean, we’ll shoot some pool.)
Tony Watson is another left-hander who spits at platoon splits, but his strikeouts are down and his walks are up compared to previous seasons. Probably still excellent, but the Pirates wouldn’t settle for a “probably still excellent” kind of trade package. Like Doolittle, they would prefer to trade him in July after three months of dominance.
Alex Colome is really, really, really good, and the Rays would try to extract Joe Panik from the Giants, I just know they would. Why wouldn’t they? The Giants are marks, now.
On the other hand, it’s not like the Giants are unhappy with the Matts trade, either, so they won’t be as scared as us. THINK OF THE CHILDREN, GIANTS.
Jake McGee probably would have got $60 million dollars if he were a free agent this offseason, but he still has a year left on his contract. His strikeouts were gobbled up by Coors Field, which might be explainable if he weren’t a fastball-first pitcher, which he is. The Rockies are better than you think, so they might actually want to add rather than subtract, but if they’re selling, the down season plus the one remaining year might combine for a lower price than we might have otherwise expected.
If I had to rank my favorite options, assuming that the prices would all land between “reasonable” and “painful,” it would go something like this:
- Greg Holland
- Sean Doolittle
- Brad Ziegler
- Alex Colome
- Wade Davis
- Jake McGee
- Neftali Feliz
- Joakim Soria
- David Robertson
- Koji Uehara
That’s not in terms of talent. It’s a mix of what it would take to get the pitchers and talent (or durability in Uehara’s case). Holland would be a risk, but I like the idea of keeping some money aside for an outfielder or deadline acquisition.
That’s the middle tier, and while it’s not thrilling, there are a lot of ways to skin this hot-stove cat. If you set your heart on one of the top three options, you might get hurt, you poor soul, so there are some of the contingency plans.