San Francisco Giants: In Need of Bullpen Renovations

Aug 12, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Javier Lopez (49) pitches the ball against the Houston Astros during the eighth inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 12, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Javier Lopez (49) pitches the ball against the Houston Astros during the eighth inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Francisco Giants have done a marvelous job of addressing the weaknesses in their starting rotation, but now they must turn their attention to the bullpen.

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The San Francisco Giants have addressed the needs in their starting rotation through free agent signings and working with what they already had in Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy and Matt Cain.  They have also addressed their outfield needs with the signing of Denard Span.  But now they must turn their attention towards another issue — the bullpen.

Bullpens can make or break championship-caliber teams each and every season. And in most cases the team that hoists the Commissioner’s Trophy after the World Series is the one that has had the strongest bullpen throughout the postseason.

No matter how strong a team’s starting rotation is, it is nearly impossible for those pitchers to go eight innings every time out. The bullpen bridges the gap to the win and is one of the most easily recognizable sources of a team’s success.

While maybe not as flashy as a powerful offense or an awe-inspiring defense, the bullpen is just as crucial to winning. The Giants have had one of the best bullpens in baseball with their core four: recently-retired Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, and Santiago Casilla, all of whom have been with the team during each of their three San Francisco-era championship runs.

However, age has a way of interfering with even the best teams. Affeldt has officially retired, Lopez is mainly being used to target left-handed batters, Romo is 32 years-old and in the final year of his contract, and Casilla also has one year left on his deal and is 35 years-old. Realistically, even these stalwarts of the Giants bullpen have to have support.

One of the many things that Bruce Bochy is known for doing better than most managers in baseball is managing his bullpen. That included his use of then-rookie Hunter Strickland in 2014 and more recently, Josh Osich, who made his MLB debut last season.

By introducing them to MLB action in the middle of the season, Bochy allowed them to acclimate, gather advice from the veteran core four, and find their roles before the playoffs began. The result was a ring for Strickland in 2014 and a 2.20 ERA for Osich last season.

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Strickland and Osich are being groomed, in a sense, to take over from where Romo, Casilla, Affeldt, and Lopez leave off. That will make Osich an obvious replacement for Affeldt as another left-handed reliever with comparable splits against right and left-handed batters. Strickland and his three-digit fastball may have a future taking over for Casilla in the closer’s role, but that still leaves a sizable gap if Lopez and Romo also retire in the near future.

Within the Giants’ system there are a few options, including Tyler Beede.  He is the number one prospect in the organization and could get a taste of the major leagues in the bullpen to see whether he will pan out as a starter or reliever. Another option is Sam Coonrod, who has impressed scouts with the speed and power of his pitches and might be a versatile late-innings reliever if he doesn’t gain the consistency necessary for a starting job.

Bochy could also call on Michael Broadway or Cory Gearrin, who both came up at the end of the season last year. Or the team could look for outside help via trade.

Another issue that the team will have to address is the loss of Yusmeiro Petit to the Washington Nationals. Petit had been their go-to long relief man for several years, and that loss is one that might sting for a while unless the Giants can put something in place.

One option for replacing Petit might be the return of Tim Lincecum, who despite wanting a job as a starter might be able to make a transition for his old team if he has an identifiable role that he will easily be able to slot into. That situation hinges, of course, on his healing and how his recovery from hip surgery is progressing. But it could be a low-risk, high-reward situation for the team.

Next: San Francisco Giants: A Small but Potentially Effective Rotation Tweak

The Giants have done a fantastic job of recognizing and meeting their needs as far as their starting rotation is concerned. And if they are able to do the same thing in their bullpen, they will stand a good chance of repeating their past success.