Free agent relievers Taylor Rogers and Luke Jackson have been signed by the San Francisco Giants to a three-year, $33 million contract and a two-year, $11.5 million contract, respectively. The Giants bullpen moves were certainly necessary, as their 2022 season included the loss of multiple critical games due to poor performances by relievers in clutch situations.
There are Severe Problems that the San Francisco Giants Bullpen Moves will Alleviate…Somewhat
Extra-inning games were a serious weakness for the Giants last year. The high leverage created by the automatic runner on second generally sunk their chances in such contests. Their pitchers just could not get the job done in those clutch situations. And neither, for that matter, could their hitters.
Jarlin Garcia seemed to be an especially unfortunate pitcher when it came to extra-inning games. Although his ERA for the year was a respectable 3.74, one has to look beyond ERA, especially for relievers. The three-run home run that Garcia allowed to Mookie Betts during the week of the seven-game losing skid is another thing that should weigh on the minds of fans.
And it’s not just Garcia, Dominic Leone wasn’t the ideal guy either. An exhaustive overview would be impossible, but in short, the Giants did not have what it takes to win close games.
A reliever shouldn’t be seen as impressive unless he has the ability to pitch well when it matters, and a team’s bullpen shouldn’t be seen as impressive unless it contains relievers that can pitch out of runners-on jams. The intention is not to make too much from too little, but only to affirm that the Giants late-inning inability to pitch well in critical situations played a significant role in their fall from postseason contention.
Adding to the bullpen was one of the good intentions that the Giants had at the Trade Deadline, but the only new major leaguer they acquired was Thomas Szapucki. Szapucki posted a low 1.98 ERA in 10 games for the Giants but was used primarily in low-leverage situations.
None of this means that the defense should be ignored. The low quality of that was costly. But each issue must be uniquely tackled in its own right and the pitching was overall the worst issue, as it typically is when a team is having problems with run prevention.
To get a better sense of the damage done by the Giants failure to pitch out of jams, check out this Last Word on Baseball article by Evan Thompson on a win by the Diamondbacks over the Giants.
So what effect are the additions of Rogers and Jackson likely to have? Both have experience as closers, so they have worked in tight spots. Actually, Jackson has not been a closer for much of his career at all, but he had save opportunities in 2019 and is certainly seen as a back-end bullpen option. Let’s take a look at each of the pitchers.
1. Taylor Rogers
As the first of the Giants bullpen moves, Taylor Rogers joins his twin brother Tyler Rogers in the bullpen. Having posted an ERA of 4.76 in 2022 (although his expected ERA was 4.11), he wasn’t the ultimate ideal hot guy.
It would have been best if the Giants had successfully landed a reliever such as Kenley Jansen or Edwin Diaz. They pursued Jansen, but the Atlanta Braves ended up getting him. There does not seem to be any real record of a pursuit of Diaz, who signed a record deal with the New York Mets.
But as far as what was still available at the time of his signing, Rogers was a good option. And he has had success as a closer in the past. There would be no better time for him to return to his elite performance than the present.
If Rogers looks good in spring training, it may be a good idea for the Giants to make him the ninth inning guy when a cluster of lefties is due to come to the plate. Camilo Doval should still be the primary closer, but Rogers might be the best option in the ninth when it would give the Giants a clear platoon advantage. If the three-batter minimum rule were to be removed (sadly, this is unlikely) there would be room for even more flexibility.
READ MORE: How the Giants Lost Out on Carlos Correa
2. Luke Jackson
The second of the Giants bullpen moves was the signing of Jackson. The major drawbacks on him relate to his recent Tommy John surgery. First, he likely won’t be available to pitch until June. Second, it is always impossible to know how a pitcher will perform immediately following his return from Tommy John surgery. Some pitchers find their groove quickly while others struggle.
But again, there were limited options remaining on the free agent market. There was really nothing left for the Giants to do but take chances. Jackson posted a 1.98 ERA in 2021, his last year of major league action up to this point, and they can only hope that at least some of his skill at that time will carry over into 2023. While Jackson’s return will be desired as soon as possible, they shouldn’t rush the process at the expense of compromising on his preparation and readiness.
So, were there any other options?
Aroldis Chapman remained on the market for a while, and the Kansas City Royals have only recently signed him. If the Giants could have gotten their hands on him, it might have been a good bet. He wasn’t great in 2022, posting a 4.46 ERA, but the exceptional heat on his fastball is a tool that can rightly strike hope of a rebound into the mind of any fan.
For the same reason, Josh Hader might still be a good trade option for the Giants. He wasn’t very successful by the numbers in 2022, but given his overpowering stuff and past success, he possesses significant value for a desperate team in cases where perhaps no clearly better options are available.
And every team has a pitching coach. If the coach can successfully work with a strikeout artist on limiting home runs, it may transform things. Hader is a former all-star closer, so his stuff has been successful against opponents in the past.
These statements might also make the observant reader wonder if the Giants should re-sign Reyes Moronta, who has become a free agent after a 2022 season in which he posted a 4.30 ERA. This number is unimpressive, but the above observations may apply. In 2018, Moronta was excellent both in full-inning and fireman duty.
The more desperate a potentially contending team is to add players to its roster, the more risk it can justifiably be willing to accept. The Giants’ bullpen moves are investments that will be worth tracking the progress of and seeing how they play out.
As a final note, the Giants current situation would probably justify making an investment in free-agent catcher Gary Sanchez. While Sanchez has not been great lately, and barely checks in above replacement value, the reasoning about the acceptability of risk on investments for the Giants probably applies in his case. A one or two-year contract with an annual average value of about $5 million may make sense.