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What will the bullpen look like after the trade deadline?

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The Giants are almost certainly selling bullpen arms despite the recent success. Who will take their place?

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at San Francisco Giants Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The trade deadline is less than a week away which means that the Giants’ roster could look radically different by next Thursday. It could also only look slightly different or not different at all. With the Giants’ competent play over the last two months and a 17-for-21 stretch most recently, the odds of a full fire sale have diminished. The Giants aren’t going to try to dump Brandon Belt’s salary or anything. Madison Bumgarner is probably staying put. A couple of 40-45 FV prospect probably aren’t worth causing the clubhouse to go “ballistic” and for a suddenly re-energized fanbase to lose faith.

The Giants will still likely sell off bullpen pieces, however. Will Smith might not bring back a Gleyber Torres, but enough teams are thirsty enough for Big Willy that the return should be good enough to not pass up. There’s virtue in hanging onto Sam Dyson and Tony Watson; the team might actually be good next year! With Watson there’s the risk that he declines his player option for next season. However, with his strikeout percentage dropping by 10 points, maybe he’d rather not roll the dice on free agency where he’s just as likely to land on “minor-league contract” as he is to increase his earnings.

But relievers have a nasty habit of being a lot less effective than they were the year before. (See: Blake Treinen, Pedro Strop, Edwin Díaz, etc.) Dyson and Watson’s value will never be higher, so if they get an offer they can’t refuse, well, they shouldn’t refuse it. Who knows? Maybe the Giants can replicate the Brad Hand and Adam Cimber for Francisco Mejia trade and package Smith and Reyes Moronta for a top-100 prospect. Perhaps a middle infielder.

The four pitchers mentioned are all very, very good, but the Giants can survive without them. After all, if there’s one area where the Giants are deep, it’s the bullpen. Currently, the bullpen hierarchy looks something like this:

CL: Will Smith

SU: Sam Dyson

SU: Reyes Moronta

MID: Tony Watson

MID: Mark Melancon

MID: Trevor Gott

LR: Drew Pomeranz

RGFAAA (Rotating Guy from Triple-A): Sam Coonrod

Bullpen roles in 2019 are a little more fluid than that, but once we start sliding relievers out from the top, new ones will take their place like jugs of milk. We’ll get an idea of what new roles the remaining pitchers will assume.

I would very surprised if Will Smith isn’t traded, while Dyson and Watson feel more like coin flips. Moronta probably isn’t going anywhere. Let’s first look at what might be the likeliest scenario where only Will Smith is traded. In that case, Dyson is the new closer and Ray Black comes up to be the RGFAAA.

CL: Sam Dyson

SU: Reyes Moronta

SU: Mark Melancon

MID: Tony Watson

MID: Trevor Gott

MID: Sam Coonrod

LR: Drew Pomeranz

RGFAAA: Ray Black

Sam Coonrod is by no means a lock to stick, but he looked impressive against the Cubs. Other candidates for RGFAAA include usual suspects Williams Jerez and Ty Blach, but maybe Sam Selman gets added to the 40-man roster. This bullpen would only be marginally worse and probably wouldn’t affect the Giants’ quest to get Bruce Bochy to 2,000 wins playoff odds. If the Giants trade Will Smith, it’s not a sign of them punting the season. At the very most, this bullpen loses one more game than a bullpen with Will Smith. Everyone else is still pretty good. Even if Watson goes with him, the Giants have enough options to make the difference mostly unnoticeable.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that the Giants trade every reliever who can be traded. It’s probably not very likely that Smith, Watson, Dyson, and Moronta all go, but in that case, the Giants would have a lot of holes to fill. Sam Coonrod, Fernando Abad, and Ray Black could find mostly permanent homes in the bullpen while a carousel of Dereck Rodríguez/Andrew Suárez/Conner Menez would come up to make spot starts and be long relief out of the bullpen. The new roles might look like this:

CL: Mark Melancon

SU: Trevor Gott

SU: Drew Pomeranz

MID: Ray Black

MID: Sam Coonrod

MID: Fernando Abad

LR: Dereck Rodríguez/Andrew Suárez/Conner Menez

RGFAAA: Williams Jerez/Melvin Adon/Jandel Gustave/Ty Blach/Sam Wolff/Sam Selman

The roles will shift so much as to be rendered meaningless. The only thing that would be for certain is that Melancon would finally be the closer and Trevor Gott would get the seventh or eighth innings. Other than that, it’s musical chairs based on who’s rested and pitching well. That’s by design. It’s what the Giants have been doing all season, but with less proven talent at the front of the bullpen, the shuffling at the back will only intensify.

The RGFAAA can and will be just about anyone. Williams Jerez will probably be the first one up. Ty Blach is the only one among them with significant major league experience (Gustave has 20 innings between 2016 and 2017), but he hasn’t been good in the bigs for some time. As with Selman, Sam Wolff would need to be added to the 40-man roster, but trading away four players would create ample space. Wolff and Melvin Adon would be effectively skipping Triple-A which makes them long shots but if enough guys struggle ahead of them, we could see them in San Francisco by year’s end.

My inability to pinpoint who exactly would fill out the back of the bullpen speaks to the amount of options the Giants have. Whether these are quality options remains to be seen. The Giants’ shiny 24-10 record in one-run games might look a lot worse come October. These subtractions are probably enough to bring them out of the Wild Card fantasy but not so much to make the team unwatchable. It also wouldn’t be enough to derail them from 2,000 wins for Bochy. The difference between a great bullpen and a disastrous one over two months is what? Five wins? And that’s if you’re being extremely pessimistic. I don’t think this bullpen would be a disaster either.

By trading Smith and perhaps Dyson and Watson, the Giants have an opportunity to bolster a farm system that’s on the rise without making the team that much worse. Though it would look like breaking up the band, it’s an opportunity they should take.