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Are the Giants done with the bullpen now?

It’s possible. Cory Gearrin’s guaranteed contract might give us a clue.

San Francisco Giants v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Giants will officially pay Mark Melancon an average of $15.5 million per year. That’s about $220,000 per inning. I would like to apply for this job, and I will spend all day updating my LinkedIn page if needed. Being a high-priced closer is a good gig.

But the cost of Melancon has a, uh, cost. It’s possible that this is the only move the Giants make to improve the bullpen. They weren’t just a pitcher short of a championship last year, but the expense might force them to focus on the rest of the roster.

Just as important as the expense? The numbers game. Cory Gearrin now has a guaranteed contract, which means the Giants have a fairly full bullpen already. Here are all of the Giants’ relievers currently under contract:

  1. Mark Melancon
  2. Derek Law
  3. Hunter Strickland
  4. Will Smith
  5. Cory Gearrin
  6. Steven Okert/Josh Osich
  7. George Kontos

The Giants could go for 13 pitchers again, which would leave them with a short bench, and that would be how they could get the loser of the Matt Cain/Ty Blach battle in the bullpen. They could trade Kontos, who is still relatively inexpensive and keeps preventing runs somehow. They could keep both of the five-lettered O lefties in Sacramento, which would leave just one lefty for Bruce Bochy. He’s twitching at the thought right now, but it would be some tough love.

It’s also possible that the Giants could add a lefty and trade one of Okert or Osich. Looking at you, J.D. Martinez.

Howell had a down year last season, but he was a fine LOOGY for the four years before that, and his peripherals didn’t chance, which suggests he was attacked by luck gremlins. If it’s a precursor to a trade for an outfielder, it would make some sense.

But I still hold firm to the idea that making Hunter Strickland the fourth-best right-handed pitcher in the bullpen is the most important thing the Giants can do this offseason. Not because Strickland is a problem, but because it would be a sign of tremendous depth. If the Giants can go to Strickland or Law in the sixth and seventh innings, they’ll frustrate a lot of teams, even if neither one improves a lick. The trick is to get someone who could allow them to do that.

You can find a list of possibilities here. There’s Neftali Feliz, Joakim Soria, Junichi Tazawa, or even Koji Uehara. That last one might be a perfect match, considering he wouldn’t be looking for a long-term deal, and he already spent last season in a setup role. It’s just a matter of him deciding to play on the West Coast for the first time in his career.

And it’s also a matter of the Giants a) having money to add another reliever and b) having a spot. You might be scared of Kontos and his weird strikeout/walk ratio, but the Giants are probably looking at him like a perfect low-cost option for the back of the bullpen. If that’s the case, I’m not sure there’s room on the roster for another reliever. Not unless they go with an annoying four-man bench again, which will never be ideal.

It’s the guaranteed contract to Gearrin that makes me think the Giants are done. There’s still a chance for Greg Holland or one of the pitchers above, but I’ll guess this is the bullpen upgrade. Considering that I can make an argument for all of the pitchers on the roster, and am actively optimistic about at least four of them, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

It sure looks like the 2016 bullpen, though, just with a new boss. That’s an important distinction, but we’ll just have to hope the biggest problem with the bullpen last year was a lack of offense, and that it gets fixed this offseason, whether by players like Joe Panik and Buster Posey getting better, or by a surprising move during the Winter Meetings.

Because as is, I think we’re looking at the 2017 bullpen. And it looks a lot like the 2016 bullpen with one major difference. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

Edit: Good thing I published this right away!

As you were.