The torturous San Francisco Giants brimmed on the precipice of disaster on their way through three successful postseason trips. The fourth time around, that ‘torture’ narrative overflowed into devastating reality.
The Giants’ front office had seen enough, so they took some of that torture money and purchased a little peace of mind: 31-year-old closer Mark Melancon.
Ok, they used a lot of torture money, reportedly signing the former Pittsburgh Pirate and Washington National for $62 million over four years, per Giants beat writers reporting from Winter Meetings in Maryland.
The Giants made clear their intentions after that devastating night in October — it took no later than Day One of this year’s Winter Meetings to get their ninth-inning guy, a heavy weight off their backs, said Bobby Evans:
“Adding a premier closer was our main priority this offseason. Mark solidifies the back end of our bullpen and fills a critical role. He brings talent, leadership and experience to our pitching staff.”
No longer will Bruce Bochy have to trot to the mound over and over to protect a lead, exhausting his bullpen to scratch one out. At least, that’s the hope.
Melancon’s ascent through the bullpen ranks marks him as the antithesis to the 2016 Giants’ bullpen debacle, a poster child for efficient and boring ninth innings. The Giants could use a couple of boring ninth innings to make up for the dozens that induced nausea around the Bay Area.
The Giants recorded nine blown saves in September and October alone, an MLB- and franchise-high 30 overall. Melancon recorded four blown saves in 2016, finishing a league-high 67 games and saving 47 of them — Zach Britton also had 47 saves, Jeurys Familia led the MLB with 51.
In 2016 Melancon held a 1.07 WHIP and 9.50 K/9 against lefties, a .76 WHIP and 7.24 K/9 against righties. He pitches with command, equipped with a nasty cutter that compensates for a modest low-90s fastball and a nastier knuckle curveball to boot — more than 30 percent of batted balls incur soft contact, according to FanGraphs.
He should feel pretty good in San Francisco with baseball’s best infield behind him and that thick marine layer looming above.
The Giants went all in, quickly, because Melancon fits the need. Evans and Co. went looking for a swing-and-miss guy at the 2016 trade deadline, but didn’t waste time this Winter waiting on terms for the market’s flashiest arms.
Evans sketched out the contract’s terms to CSN Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic in Maryland: Melancon will get a $20 million signing bonus, $12 million upfront, $4 million the first year, $10 million the second and $14 the last two with an opt-out after the second year.
The $62 million, four-year deal crushed the previous record (David Robertson‘s $46 million, four-year contract), but will be unquestionably topped once flamethrowers Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen find a home. The pair earned about $1 million more, on average, than Melancon last year — and the market is hot.
The Giants had options, money, but an obvious choice sat ready to go. Melancon gets saves — he’s one of 16 to ever break 50 in one season (51 in 2015), earning him that year’s Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year award. He’ll keep Bochy on the bench, quell late-inning qualms perpetuated by 2016 PTSD and anchor an otherwise scrappy and young bullpen.
ERA doesn’t necessarily speak to a closer’s effectiveness, but Melancon maintained an NL-leading 1.64 ERA with two different teams. He gave up just three home runs last year, to Daniel Murphy, Paul Goldschmidt and T.J. Rivera and walked only 12 batters.
He’s also a three-time All-Star and has pitched at least 70 innings in five of his last six seasons.