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MLB preview 2017: The Giants would very much like the bullpen to be better, thank you

Doug Bruzzone of McCovey Chronicles tells us why Brandon Crawford’s hair always looks wet and more about the upcoming season for the San Francisco Giants

With the 2017 season just around the corner, it’s time to catch up what the other teams around the division. Instead of trying to figure out what we need to know about them ourselves, we thought it would be a good idea to ask our friends at our neighbors here at SBNation to help acquaint us with the teams in the division.

We asked Doug Bruzzone of McCovey Chronicles to answer a few questions for us about the upcoming San Francisco Giants season. You’ll find his answers below, edited for length and clarity.

What went right for the San Francisco Giants in 2016? What, ultimately, went wrong?

They made the playoffs! That was a thing that went right. They had a spectacular first half, and went into the All-Star Break on the strength of a rotation whose top two, Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, were dominant. The offense was mostly clicking, the defense (and infield defense especially) was sensational, and the bullpen was only blowing a moderate number of saves. Yes, things were really humming along.

Then the second half came and everyone thought it would be funny if they forgot how to play baseball. In a sense, they were right, I guess. Like, to you guys, I’m sure that looked like a great decision. But the offense took a step back, the rotation regressed, the trade acquisitions, though all eventually were positive contributors, started off slowly, and the bullpen. Oh, God, the bullpen. What positives have we Giants fans experienced to deserve such karmic retribution? Perhaps we’ll never know.

[Editor’s Note: we can’t imagine…]

If you were to explain what happened in the second half to an outside observer, what would you say?

It was like taking a test in high school, blowing through the first half, and then getting to the more complicated stuff at the end, and thinking to yourself, “What the heck is that?” You stare at it. You glance around the room just to see if anyone else thinks it’s weird that there are multiple test questions on this thing they’ve never heard of. Everyone else, it turns out, is fine (Well, not the Twins, but they’re a bad student in general). You try answering. You have no idea what you’re doing. You start multiple answers with “Webster’s defines this topic as ...” even though this is a math test. Eventually time runs out. This is garbage. You turn it in. This is garbage. You go home and look at your textbook. Oh, there it is, that thing you don’t know. You’ve been doing homework on it for weeks. Your homework wasn’t garbage, but you, personally, are garbage.

Then in the end you get a B+ on the test, which represents making the playoffs as the second wild card. It’s a very well thought out metaphor.

What were the most important moves of the offseason?

The two biggest moves were signing Mark Melancon and not signing a left fielder. Melancon seemed inevitable from the beginning of the offseason; he was as steady a closer as you could imagine, there was plenty of noise about the Giants liking him, and then they signed him immediately. It was the only predictable thing to happen in baseball history.

As for left field, the Giants declared early on that it would be a spring competition between Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson. Despite the contingent of Giants fans who thought they should sign Yoenis Cespedes or trade for JD Martinez, the team stuck with their homegrown guys, and now it looks like Parker will be starting in left field on Opening Day.

They also signed Nick Hundley to be the backup catcher, which is a move so big I wrote a whole sentence about it.

For a long time getting into the Giants’ bullpen—especially at AT&T Park—was a daunting task. Last year they led the league in blown saves, which the team seemed to think was enough of a problem that they went out and signed Melancon. What else have they done to shore up the bullpen and how are you feeling about it going into the season?

For the most part, other than Melancon, the bullpen is mostly full of guys who were around last year. For a while, it seemed that Will Smith would have a shot at having a bigger role, but now that he’s going to have Tommy John surgery, that’s out. But the plan is for some of the young guys who had good years last year to repeat that success, some of the veterans who severely underperformed to not be on the roster anymore, and probably the team will end up making a trade or two to shore up the bullpen in July. It’s not sexy or fun, but without Santiago Casilla blowing every save he lays his eyes on, it’s very unlikely to be worse.

Who are some unheralded players we should keep an eye on this season? Prospects, role players, free-agent signees, etc.

The first is Jae-gyun Hwang, who I could have mentioned under most important moves, but then what would I talk about here? Hwang’s a perennial Korean All-Star third baseman who got a minor league deal with the Giants. Indications are he’ll be headed to AAA to start the year, but he had a great spring, and it’s expected that he’ll be on the major league team sometime this year.

Then there’s Tyler Beede, the Giants’ top pitching prospect, who should start the year in AAA too. He had a great year in AA last year, the scouting reports on him have been growing more effusive, and if there’s a spot in the rotation that needs a replacement, he’s going to be right there in the mix. Top infield prospect Christian Arroyo will also be in AAA, but he probably needs more time in the minors and he’s blocked by a lot of guys who can play third base.

Finally, it’s a longshot that Ray Black will make the roster, but if he can stay healthy and throw strikes in the minors, well, he throws 100 regularly. But, well, again, health and control.

Considering all the aging middle infielders in camp, what is the depth situation?

What, Aaron Hill could totally play major league shortstop, what are you talking about.

The Giants are fine in terms of depth on the infield. Losing Brandon Crawford would be a big blow, of course, but only because he’s a great player, not because he couldn’t be replaced by a major leaguer. Kelby Tomlinson and Eduardo Nuñez can both play shortstop, if Jimmy Rollins makes the roster he could too, and Arroyo has spent most of his minor league career at shortstop. All of these guys could play pretty much anywhere on the infield, so the team has options.

What happens if 2016 Joe Panik is what we get in 2017?

2016 Joe Panik wasn’t a bad player. He just couldn’t hit. That’s not me being pedantic; I think it’s important to point out that Fangraphs had him as a two win player last year on the strength of his defense. If Joe Panik’s downside is that he’s an average starter, then maybe he’s not a long term solution anymore, but you, as a team, can live with that. Now, that awful offensive showing came with a comically low BABIP and concussion issues that he dealt with for a while, so there’s a lot of reasons to think that he’ll be better. But even if he’s not, he’s still a good player to have.

What do you think is a realistic best case scenario for the team this year? What’s the worst case scenario? What would a successful season look like for the Giants?

Best case is that Bumgarner and Cueto are just as good as last year, Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore fulfill all of the promise they’ve had for years, and the fifth starter (Still pending between Matt Cain and Ty Blach) does not repeatedly run into a tunnel painted onto a rock. Add that to rebounds from Joe Panik and Denard Span and healthy seasons from Hunter Pence and the rest of the Giants regulars, then this could be a special team.

The flip side of it, of course, is that if there is injury trouble, some of which has crept up as spring training’s approached its end, then the team’s going to have starters who are really just good bench pieces and bench pieces who aren’t especially compelling. And it’s possible that Moore is just okay, or Samardzija’s entire year is disastrous, or the offense never really clicks. There are huge question marks about the entire outfield, and the team’s in trouble if they don’t get multiple thumbs up out of those guys.

Did you just do this entire thing without really writing about the 2016 bullpen?


Why? Could you talk about that bullpen a lot? Just really go in depth into it, examining its flaws and just every game where they went wrong, every moment when they made your soul leave your body, every second when you knew that you were in hell and you had done something horrible and you would never, ever be able to repent for it?

Shut up, that’s why.

Is Brandon Crawford’s hair always wet or what?

You’re just jealous that you don’t understand fashion.