The Giants’ season ended in a devastating defeat that saw a gem from Matt Moore — two runs (one earned) on two hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts across eight innings — go to waste as five relievers turned a three-run lead into a one-run deficit in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the NLDS vs. the Cubs. In the wake of that stunning defeat, executive vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean and general manager Bobby Evans spoke to the San Francisco media on Thursday, and Alex Pavlovic of CSN Bay Area has published three different stories on the media session. (Giants fans would do well to read each in its entirety, as they contain far more quotes and context than this overview.)
Sabean and Evans emphasized that the Giants will pursue late-inning relief help this winter. A top-flight closer appears high on the wishlist for the longtime San Francisco baseball ops duo, though as Pavlovic notes, there won’t be a complete overhaul of the bullpen. The Giants are encouraged by the overall output of Derek Law, Hunter Strickland, Josh Osich, Steven Okert and Will Smith, and Evans confirmed that right-hander George Kontos will be tendered a contract as well. However, as Evans explained, the Giants believe there’s a benefit to all members of the relief corps if there’s no question as to who will be closing out games.
“The bullpen performs at a much higher level when you know who your ninth-inning guy is,” said the GM. “It puts everybody at ease and helps [manager Bruce Bochy] as he defines roles. With ambiguity, it creates tension and unknowns that can add to or detract from performance and ultimately lead to struggles.” As for how he’ll go about acquiring a closer, Evans implied a no-stone-left-unturned approach, stating that he’ll be active in free agency, trades and even evaluating his internal options.
The top three relievers in free agency are Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon. Pavlovic rightly notes that the Giants would need to make overwhelming offers to win a bidding war with teams like the Cubs, Yankees and division-rival Dodgers for the services of Jansen or Chapman, opining that Melancon is the likeliest target. That could be especially true when considering the fact that Evans has previously been candid about his pursuit of a Melancon trade in July. Of the team’s trade efforts, Sabean indicated that the Giants lacked the prospect firepower to play for top names like Chapman and Andrew Miller at this year’s deadline, ultimately concluding: “In every case that a closer didn’t come to the Giants, they went elsewhere for probably a lot more than we could have been involved in.”
Shifting to the other side of the pitching staff, Evans said that Matt Cain will have every opportunity to make the team’s starting rotation next year, but the former ace will be competing with young left-hander Ty Blach to win the fifth rotation spot behind Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Moore. Pavlovic wonders if Cain and his four-pitch mix could transition to the bullpen in a similar manner to Joe Blanton. (If that shift in roles is indeed possible, then perhaps Cain could eventually emerge as a late-inning option.)
There’s little doubt, of course, as to who will be calling the games for the majority of the pitchers discussed thus far. Buster Posey remains one of baseball’s premier backstops, but he did fade down the stretch, in part due to some nerve irritation in his right thumb. The former NL MVP won’t require surgery — no member of the roster is in line to go under the knife following the season, in fact — and he isn’t likely to see a marked decrease in terms of time behind the plate next season, either. Some have wondered if catching a career-high 122 games contributed to Posey’s second-half decline, but Evans said there’s no thought to giving Posey more time at first base. “We’re always monitoring his health,” said Evans. “We’re still confident that (catcher) is the best spot for him.”
A full season of productivity out of Posey would certainly aid the Giants in returning to playoff baseball next season, and while many fans feel that the addition of Christian Arroyo to the big league roster would do the same, Evans’ expectation is that Arroyo will begin next year in the minors. The 21-year-old, believed by many to be the team’s third baseman of the future, has yet to play above the Double-A level and slashed only .274/.316/.373 in 119 games there this season. With Arroyo likely headed for the minors, Eduardo Nunez and postseason hero Conor Gillaspie “are locks” to make the roster, writes Pavlovic.
Looking to the coaching staff, the Giants made the decisions to part ways with first base coach Bill Hayes and third base coach Roberto Kelly, with Evans explaining that the team needs to “grow our leadership in terms of how we approach our base running and our overall efforts first-to-third, second-to-home.” Furthermore, the GM said that bench coach Ron Wotus has been contacted by another club, though Pavlovic notes that it’s not clear which team, nor is it clear whether Wotus will interview for one of the managerial vacancies with the division-rival D-backs or Rockies.