The Giants welcome winter meetings in a big way by landing their new closer, 31 year old right-hander Mark Melancon. On Monday morning both parties reached a four-year deal worth $62 million.
The deal temporarily secures itself as the largest for any relief pitcher. Though this record will likely be at the top for a short time, as the remaining names in the pool of desired closers will surely obliterate this mark.
Melancon split last season with the Pirates (45 games) and the Nationals (30 games). He collected 47 saves while owning a 1.64 ERA. He’s an eight-year veteran who holds a career 2.60 ERA and 1.036 WHIP, and he recorded the most saves in baseball in 2015 (51 with 53 opportunities).
Last season the Giants watched their hodgepodge of relievers implode and then simmer in a slow painful burn that managed to rack up 32 blown saves. It included, but was not limited to, a championship reliever (Santiago Casilla) losing his role, another championship reliever (Sergio Romo) that couldn’t hack it, and a parade of underdeveloped arms.
The first big move to combat the glaring deficiency is Melancon, though he is not the definitive answer. There are still holes to be filled despite the welcoming of Melancon’s high-priced arm.
Perhaps the greatest concern with last season’s bullpen – other than they simply were not good – was their inability to get outs. The most heinous display came in the ninth inning where a 5-2 lead was blown in game 4 of the NLDS. While casually taking the game from the Giants, the Cubs saw five different pitchers. Five. It took five big league pitchers to get three outs.
It embodied the inadequacy of the Giants’ late inning arms. Following Casilla losing his closing role, everyone had a shot to step up and be the guy. And they just could not consistently get outs. If the starter didn’t go the distance, the chance for blowing the lead was shockingly high.
Melancon can, however, get outs – including the three he’s expected to, which is monumental improvement. He’s not going to lead all closers in strikeouts, but the contact he allows effectively gets the defense off the field. His 12-6 curve is one of the best in the league and he has a cutter that moves two feet.
Two and a half of his eight-year run was spent in the American League, and the numbers posted are drastically different. Two of his three worst seasons were with the 2009 Yankees (3.86 ERA) and the 2012 Red Sox (6.20 ERA).
Since that 2012 season he’s been in the National League and issued phenomenal numbers – 1.80 ERA with 147 saves and a WHIP that never reached higher than 0.958. His combined saves over the last three seasons total 131, which is an MLB best, and in those same seasons combined he’s blown just 10 saves – less than a third of what the Giants surrendered last season alone.
The name doesn’t glimmer like flame-thrower Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen, both of whom were on the Giants’ radar, but Melancon is highly dependable, steadfast talent. He fits the Giants’ narrative, too. The club doesn’t often chase the big name, despite the acquisition of Johnny Cueto during the off-season last year.
Whatever happened during contract negotiations convinced Melancon to leave a team who demonstrates the willingness to spend (Nationals), and who is littered with a plethora of young talent, to come to a clubhouse with a depleted bullpen and higher-aged stars.
The Giants need an outfielder that can park 25-plus home runs. That’s no secret. Perhaps light was shed on the additional gains the front office plans to pursue in the hopes of reaching the heights of 2010, 2012 and 2014.