The San Francisco Giants need to solidify the back end of their bullpen and it starts with a solid closer. The Giants relievers lost several ninth-inning leads, which ultimately thwarted their 2020 playoff hopes. Nothing is more frustrating for a team than blowing a game in the ninth inning that you should have won.
Manager Gabe Kapler tried to used a matchup-based, closer-by-committee approach and the results were mediocre, at best. Trevor Gott, Tony Watson, Tyler Rogers, and Sam Coonrod all had multiple opportunities to seize the job, but inconsistency plagued each of them. In addition, Watson, the only left-hander in this group is a free agent and is unlikely to return. The Giants’ bullpen should receive a boost with the recent signing of Matt Wisler and Reyes Moronta will be back after shoulder surgery in 2019. Both should be effective setup men, but to ask either to be the closer is a bit much. Wisler has two career saves and Moronta just one.
As we head towards the 2021 season, there are several good free-agent closer options available. It will be incumbent upon Giants’ President of Baseball Operations, Farhan Zaidi to solidify this critical area. Here are our top ten.
# 10 – Brandon Workman
Brandon Workman had a dominant year in 2019 with the Boston Red Sox. In 71 and two-thirds innings, he allowed only 29 hits. His walk total was too high with 45, but he countered that with 104 strikeouts. Workman ended up with a 1.88 ERA, 1.033 WHIP, and 16 saves.
Workman struggled to find the same dominance in 2020. After starting the year in Boston, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. He did not pitch well in either situation. Workman earned nine saves but allowed 31 hits and 13 walks in only 19 and two-thirds innings. His 5.95 ERA and 2.237 WHIP levels were abysmal. After coming off such a poor 2020 campaign, Workman could be the type of bargain-priced pitcher that Zaidi will go after this winter.
# 9 – Blake Treinen
Although Treinen was not the LA closer, he has closing experienced having done so in Oakland in 2018 and 2019. Treinen was an All-Star in 2018, as he collected 38 saves. He allowed only 46 hits and 21 walks, while striking out 100, in 80 innings. His ERA of 0.78 and WHIP of 0.834 was spectacular. Treinen lost the closer job in 2019, but still earned 16 saves.
In 2020, Treinen was very solid, as he allowed 23 hits and eight walks, while striking out 22, over 25 and two-thirds innings pitched. If the Giants can entice Treinen to come to San Francisco, not only will it strengthen their bullpen, but it takes away a valuable piece from the archrival Dodgers.
# 8 – Brandon Kintzler
Brandon Kintzler had a stellar 2020 season as the Miami Marlins closer. He picked up 12 saves, which was second in the National League. Kintzler also had only two blown saves, over his 24 appearances. In 24 innings, Kintzler allowed 21 hits and 11 walks, with an ERA of 2.22 and WHIP of 1.315.
Two things are concerning with Kintzler, however. He lacks true swing-and-miss stuff and a true dominant strikeout pitch. His 14 strikeouts leave him with a very pedestrian 1.27 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In addition, Kintzler will be 37 years of age next summer, so one must wonder if he can come close to duplicating his 2020 season.
# 7 – Shane Greene
Shane Greene was traded to the Atlanta Braves midway through the 2019 season. He has never been the Braves’ closer, but prior to coming to Atlanta had 54 saves with the Detroit Tigers in 2018 and part of 2019. Greene also made the 2019 AL All-Star team.
Greene had a good season in 2020, as he allowed 22 hits and nine walks over 27 and two-thirds innings. Perhaps the biggest drawback with Greene as a closer is he does not have tremendous strikeout capabilities, as his 21 strikeouts last year indicates. Nevertheless, Greene has been very effective pitching to contact as his 2.60 ERA and 1.120 ERA suggest.
# 6 – Archie Bradley
The Cincinnati Reds acquired Archie Bradley prior to the 2020 trade deadline in an attempt to bolster their bullpen and make a playoff push. Bradley had been the Arizona Diamondbacks closer for the past year-and-a-half. However, with the Diamondbacks falling out of contention, they opted to cut salaries & add youth, so Bradley was sent packing.
Bradley’s cumulative stats for 2020 were quite solid. In 18 innings pitched, he allowed 17 hits and three walks, while striking out 18. He also earned six saves, all with the Diamondbacks.
The Reds used Bradley primarily as a set-up man for closer Raisel Iglesias. In a somewhat surprising move, the Reds opted to non-tender Bradley, making him a free agent and someone the Giants should be taking a strong look at.
# 5 – Kirby Yates
Kirby Yates had season-ending elbow surgery in August 2020. However, the surgery was to remove bone chips, it was not Tommy John surgery and not a procedure on his UCL. The recovery time was estimated at six weeks, giving Yates ample time to ramp up for spring training.
When healthy, Yates was a dominant closer for the San Diego Padres, as he assumed the full-time closer role in 2019. Yates led the league that year with 41 saves, was an All-Star selection and finished ninth in the NL Cy Young voting. His ERA of 1.19 and WHIP of 0.890 were also outstanding.
Yates allowed only 41 hits and 13 walks, while striking out 101, over 60 and two-thirds innings pitched. His strikeout-to-walk-ratio 0f 7.77 was filthy and at times, Yates was totally unhittable.
Yates’ swing-and-miss stuff is something the Giants bullpen sorely lacks and having a pitcher of Yates’ caliber would be a tremendous addition.
# 4 – Trevor Rosenthal
Rosenthal was a lights-out closer for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2014 and 2015 seasons, earning 45 and 48 saves respectively. However, injuries and resultant ineffectiveness ultimately derailed his career. Rosenthal had a bounce back season in 2020 and helped lead the Padres to the NLCS, where they ultimately fell to the Dodgers.
In nine games with the Padres, Rosenthal threw 10 innings without allowing an earned run. He struck out 17 batters & had four saves down the stretch for San Diego. Prior to joining the Padres, Rosenthal was also pitching very well with the Royals. It appears as though he is healthy and has found the form that made him a lock-down closer earlier in his career.
# 3 – Alex Colome’
For the past five seasons, Alex Colome‘ has been one of the top closers in baseball, but has largely flown under the radar. Colome’ was an AL All-Star 2016 and led the league with 47 saves in 2017, while with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Over the last two seasons, Colome’ has excelled as the closer for the Chicago White Sox. In 2019, he earned 30 saves, with an ERA of 2.80 and WHIP of 1.066.
Colome’ was even more effective in 2020, as he allowed only 13 hits and eight walks, while striking out 16, over 22 innings. Colome’ fashioned an ERA of 0.81 and WHIP of 0.940 to go along with 12 saves and only one blown save. He was instrumental in helping lead the White Sox to the playoffs.
# 2 – Brad Hand
For the past four seasons, Brad Hand has been an extremely reliable closer. He has 103 total saves over that span and three All-Star selections.
After earning 34 saves in 2019 for the Cleveland Indians, Hand followed that up in 2020, as he led the league with 16. Hand also led the league with 21 games finished and had no blown saves.
In 2020, Hand allowed only 13 hits and four walks, while striking out 29, over 22 innings pitched. His ERA of 2.05 was solid and his WHIP of 0.773 was tremendous.
Hand’s strikeout-to-walk-ratio of 7.25 was easily the best of his career. Hand is also a left-hander, something the Giants bullpen sorely lacks.
# 1 – Liam Hendricks
In 2019, Hendricks threw 85 innings, allowed only 61 hits and 21 walks, while striking out 124. Hendricks earned his first All-Star nod, as his 1.80 ERA, 0.965 WHIP, and 25 saves, more than justified his selection.
Hendricks followed up 2019 with an even more impressive 2020. He was second in the league with 14 saves, had an ERA of 1.78, and a truly amazing WHIP of 0.671. In 25 innings. Hendricks allowed only 14 hits and three walks while striking out 37.
Hendricks has the type of dominating swing-and-miss stuff you like to see in a closer. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 12.33 led all closers in 2020.
After pitching in Oakland for the past five seasons, Hendricks is obviously comfortable in the SF Bay Area. A move by the Giants to acquire him would be the type of impact signing that would create a positive stir and give the Giants’ bullpen immediate credibility.
Farhan Zaidi – The Next Move is Yours
MLB team revenues were decimated in 2020 due to the Coronavirus and the hopeful outlook is for a slow reintroduction of fans in the 2021 season. It’s very likely the free-agent market will be lukewarm, at best.
Zaidi has done a very good job in building the farm system and finding inexpensive players at bargain prices that have turned out to be very productive. However, without an influx of higher end, proven performers, the Giants will not be able to compete with the Dodgers or Padres, as they try to make a playoff push.
The Giants offense did well in 2020 and with the return of Buster Posey, should be as good or better in 2021. Building the starting pitching staff and adding a lock-down closer are the next moves the Giants need to make, in order to successfully compete for a playoff berth in 2021.
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