The San Francisco Giants have work to do rebuilding the relief corps this offseason. Here's a look at the current state of the bullpen.
Pitchers are already flying off the shelves this holiday season. With Stephen Strasburg, Cole Hamels, Zach Wheeler, and former San Francisco Giants lefty relievers Will Smith and Drew Pomeranz among the free-agent arms already signing new contracts, the field of available options has thinned considerably.
So who will the Giants bring in this offseason?
Undoubtedly, the ever-wheeling-and-dealing decision maker Farhan Zaidi will be active, but the player tier he will target, if any, remains a mystery. Simply put, there are plenty of holes to be filled this offseason and any number of ways to address them.
Let's narrow the scope to the bullpen.
Going back to July, the team has lost Smith, Pomeranz, Derek Holland, Mark Melancon, Sam Dyson, and Reyes Moronta (injured for 2020, more on him later). That's a lot of turnover to make up for before Opening Day 2020.
So let's take a closer look at the current state of the relief corps, starting with the incumbent options.
There are only a few spots locked in for the 2020 bullpen.
As it stands, 35-year-old lefty Tony Watson may be the incumbent closer, simply by virtue of being the elder statesman.
However, last year was arguably the toughest of his career, as he failed to finish the season strong and ultimately posted career-worst numbers with a 4.17 ERA, 4.81 FIP, and 1.5 HR/9 in 60 appearances.
His strikeout rate also fell from 9.8 K/9 in 2018 to just 6.8 K/9 last season. A deeper dive suggests hitters are making harder contact against him and his slider was a much weaker secondary pitch than it was in previous seasons. On the bright side, his velocity numbers are still in line with what they have been since 2016. He's entering a contract year with free agency waiting after 2020.
Moving further down the line, 27-year-old right-hander Trevor Gott had an extremely encouraging season in 2019 and cemented his spot in the 2020 bullpen. Acquired via waivers from the Washington Nationals and controllable through 2023, Gott sported a 3.12 FIP and 1.10 WHIP through a career high 52.2 innings, albeit with a 4.44 ERA.
Rookie right-hander Sam Coonrod only transitioned to the bullpen on a full-time basis last year. Prior to that, he was injured for the majority of 2018 and a starter before that in the minors. He had a solid 3.58 ERA in 2019, albeit paired with a decidedly less solid 5.24 FIP.
The explanation? Underwhelming strikeout (6.5 K/9) and walk (4.9 BB/9) rates, combined with an unsustainably low .222 BABIP.
Nonetheless, he is controllable for the next six seasons and there is no reason to believe he won't be given every chance to succeed further and work on improving at the MLB level.
That's three slots accounted for in the bullpen. Who else among the incumbent options could earn a roster spot this spring?
There are a handful of other in-house options that will get a long look this spring.
Signed as a minor league free agent before 2019, 27-year-old right-hander Jandel Gustave follows the trend of low-risk additions who have been cast off by former teams. He posted a 2.96 ERA and 3.71 FIP in 24.1 innings last season.
He did struggle to fool batters (5.2 K/9), but was elite at keeping the ball in the park (0.4 HR/9). He may need to develop a reliable third pitch if he wants to reach another level, after exclusively using a fastball-slider combination last season.
Further down the list, Andrew Suarez, Shaun Anderson, and Dereck Rodriguez all came up as starting pitchers. However, they operated in a swingman role of sorts in 2019, with each making at least 12 relief appearances. Their 2020 outlook is muddled, but their versatility may be beneficial as the club continues to make pitching additions throughout the offseason.
The trio of righties Tyler Rogers and Burch Smith and lefty Wandy Peralta made late-season cameos with the big league squad, and each performed fairly well. Rogers, a submariner, was probably the best of the bunch. Over his 17.2 innings, he allowed just three runs and three walks, posting a 1.02 ERA and 2.08 FIP while striking out 16 batters. My guess is that we see him on the Opening Day roster, or soon thereafter.
Finally, it's worth mentioning that the most talented reliever on the Giants is currently recovering from shoulder surgery and will be out for most, if not all, of the 2020 season. Reyes Moronta would have been perhaps the strongest contender to take up the mantle at closer, with an 11.1 K/9 and 6.5 H/9, along with a 2.86 ERA over 56.2 innings. The team will surely open up a spot for him when he returns to full health.
Clearly, the Giants have little in the way of truly established relievers going into 2020. Additions will need to be made -- at the very least so they can have some interesting trade chips come July. Luckily, the free agent market still has some quality arms out there, and most should be fairly affordable.
In scouring the free-agent market for available relievers, a few names stand out.
Veteran righties Steve Cishek, Craig Stammen, Daniel Hudson, and Will Harris all had quality seasons in 2019. Hudson had the best season of his career, while the others were all consistent with what they've previously produced.
Anyone from that group could end up being a decent late-game option for new manager Gabe Kapler and the Giants, and could likely be had for one or two-year contracts at relatively modest rates.
Of them, my prohibitive favorite would be the 33-year-old Cishek. The sidearmer has done nothing but produce over the past four seasons, hurling 243 innings with a 2.52 ERA and 37 saves to boot. Additionally, in a market devoid of lefty relievers, Cishek has succeeded against both sides of the plate throughout his career.
The Giants carried three lefties in the bullpen at times last season, but with only Watson remaining as a surefire member, versatility may be the deciding factor when they do sign someone.
The still-friendly confines of Oracle Park will certainly be a selling point if the team pursues relievers looking to reestablish value on a one-year term.
In particular, Dellin Betances (31) and Pedro Strop (34) stick out as high-upside relievers who are entering the market after rough 2019 seasons.
Betances appeared in just one game for the New York Yankees while spending most of the year on injured list due to shoulder and Achilles injuries. Meanwhile, Strop was healthy but ineffective compared to the rest of his seven-year tenure with the Chicago Cubs. He had a 4.97 ERA, due in large part to inflated walk and home run numbers. However, he still had 10.6 K/9, the second-best mark in his career over a full season.
All in all, the team's Opening Day bullpen will look vastly different from how it did a year ago. And it will probably look completely different again at the end of 2020.
The bullpen is where the most turnover on any team takes place, and with Zaidi's tendency to always search for any possible marginal upgrades, that will be particularly true for the Giants.