The main priority of the San Francisco Giants this offseason was to improve their bullpen. In 2016, the Giants' bullpen collapsed in June, enabling the Los Angeles Dodgers to win their fourth straight National League West title. On Friday, the Giants received the worst possible news for a team coming
The main priority of the San Francisco Giants this offseason was to improve their bullpen. In 2016, the Giants' bullpen collapsed in June, enabling the Los Angeles Dodgers to win their fourth straight National League West title. On Friday, the Giants received the worst possible news for a team coming off a season with bullpen issues.
At last year's non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Giants obtained left-handed reliever Will Smith from the Milwaukee Brewers. Since Smith did well with his new team -- helping them to win a NL Wild Card berth -- the Giants signed Smith to a one-year, $2.5 million deal to be their setup man. On Friday, the Giants announced Smith needs Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2017 season.
With Opening Day just nine days away, it's nearly impossible for a team to find a quality setup man to acquire outside the organization.
From the beginning of 2010 to the end of '14, the Giants won three World Series championships. During this period, the Giants' bullpen rarely blew leads, and this enabled the San Francisco to dominate its opponents. Over time, the Giants' relievers grew older and became ineffective. The Giants tried to replenish their bullpen from the Minor League system, but it didn't work last year.
Unlike many teams, the Giants can't survive without an excellent pitching staff. Playing half their games at AT&T Park, and nine games each at both Dodger Stadium and Petco Park, the Giants can't rely on having a potent offense to win many games. Hunter Pence is getting older, and for the last two years, he has had trouble staying healthy. However, Pence is still arguably their best hitter. Although Buster Posey is a great hitter, as a catcher, Posey's offensive production decreases as the season progresses. Brandon Belt has never reached his projected power production, and this has hurt the Giants. After having a great season in 2015, Brandon Crawford returned to the earth but still had a decent offensive season last year.
The Giants have a good starting rotation, led by Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, followed by Matt Moore and Jeff Samardjia.
Manager Bruce Bochy likes to use his bullpen a lot. Next to Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, Bochy made the most pitching changes in 2016. In the late innings of any game, Bochy likes to play the percentages -- righties vs. right-handed batters and lefty-lefty matchups. Having Smith out for the season limits Bochy's options.
This past offseason, the Giants signed an elite closer in Mark Melancon. They thought having both Smith and Melancon would prevent as many blown leads. When a team blows a late-inning lead and loses a hard-fought game, it can destroy morale. The closer gets all of the glory, but the eighth-inning setup man sometimes is more important to his team and harder to replace than the closer. When a team can't hold onto a lead before the last inning, it doesn't need a closer.
Giants general manager Bobby Evans understands the importance of a quality bullpen. Hence, he spent the entire offseason trying to build a strong backend of the bullpen while ignoring possible offensive problems. Smith would have given the Giants a left-handed setup man -- a luxury in baseball -- who could have been particularly important in the NL West considering the Dodgers' well-documented problems against lefties in 2016.
How the Giants deal with losing Smith could determine whether they are an elite team early in 2017.
Sarah D. Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.