Whether you’re measuring by WAR, SIERA or saves plus holds, Will Smith and Tony Watson were the Giants’ most valuable relievers in 2018. (If we include non-qualifiers, Pablo Sandoval had the lowest SIERA, but I’m not going to dwell on this.) When you think about non-contending teams who don’t need the luxury of going into the season multiple top-flight relievers, the Giants should come to mind first. So it should hardly be surprising that Smith and Watson’s names have been popping up in trade rumors.
Several teams have contacted the Giants about both relievers, and with bigger names like Zach Britton, Andrew Miller and David Robertson recently coming off the board, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi recognizes that the duo could be a good fit for small market teams still looking for relief help. Even if the Giants dealt both Smith and Watson, they would have a plethora of lefties still in place to fill that need in their bullpen.
Should Smith somehow remain and start the season as the Giants’ closer, he would need to be drafted in all formats, even in spite of the likelihood that he would get traded at some point this season. Even if we know Smith won’t start the year as a closer, he is worth some late-round consideration, just for the help he can offer in strikeouts, ERA and WHIP. If the Giants were to trade Smith and hand Watson the role, he would deserve to be drafted everywhere as well. It seems far more likely that Watson will pitch in a setup role, regardless of which team he plays for. As such, he could be a top 50 reliever in standard Roto formats, just like he was in 2018.
But what would the Giants’ closer situation look like without Smith or Watson in the picture? Probably still cloudy, as nearly anyone with value could be traded before or during the season. Nonetheless, let’s take a look at four relievers who could pick up saves and provide fantasy value.
The good: Melancon has oodles of closing experience, and the $14 million he is due for each of the next two seasons plus his no-trade clause may make it hard to move him. As long as he is healthy and effective, he could have the closer’s job wire-to-wire.
The bad: He has missed large portions of the last two seasons, first for a forearm injury and then — after having undergone pronator surgery — for a strained elbow flexor. Over those seasons, Melancon was not as good at throwing strikes or inducing chases, and those skills were key to his earlier successes. So has been his ability to coax soft contact, but his rate in 2018 was a mere 15.6 percent. Melancon has fared well at pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, but over 2017 and 2018, he had a 5.74 ERA and .360 Avg allowed on the road.
The outlook: If Melancon can rebound, particularly in terms of the velocity and movement on his cutter, he will likely be worth owning in nearly all formats. Given his recent difficulties and health issues, you should be able to draft him in the later rounds, even in deeper leagues. He is a worthy speculation target, but there is no need to reach.
The good: Last season, Dyson returned to his 2016 form, when he collected 38 saves with the Rangers. He did have a couple of rough patches during the first half, but he was consistently effective in the second half, holding opponents to a .224/.293/.274 slash line with a 64.5 percent ground ball rate. A repeat of that performance would definitely be good enough for the ninth inning.
The bad: Dyson’s $5 million contract is inexpensive enough to make him attractive to other teams, yet expensive enough relative to other Giants relievers (excluding Melancon) that the team could be motivated to move him. It seems unlikely that another team would trade for Dyson in order to make him their closer, so fantasy owners should not expect a full-season’s worth of saves from him, even if he was the Giants’ opening day closer.
The outlook: If Dyson isn’t dealt this spring and Melancon struggles, Bochy could turn to him to anchor the bullpen. If that happened, it could wind up increasing his trade value, and in the long run, limit his value to fantasy owners. Dyson is a long shot to help owners with strikeouts or WHIP, so it’s best to look for other relief options on draft day.
The good: A pitcher who gets swings and misses, freezes batters and is particularly stingy with hard contact would make a good closer. That’s who Moronta was in his 2018 rookie season. That combination of skills allowed him to post a 2.49 ERA and a 30.2 percent strikeout rate. A .211 BABIP helped Moronta to overcome a 14.1 percent walk rate and finish with a 1.09 WHIP that is not as fluky as it might seem. According to xStats, Moronta’s popup rate was more than 50 percent above the major league average, and accordingly, his xBABIP (.245) was far better than the big league norm.
The bad: So there is that terrible walk rate. Moronta was only slightly below average in terms of control (42.2 percent Zone%) and getting chases (29.3 percent O-Swing%), but he got behind in the count too frequently (55.7 percent F-Strike%).
The outlook: I am ready for Reyes Moronta, Giants Closer, and perhaps the Giants will be soon as well. He is three years away from arbitration eligibility, so he almost certainly isn’t going anywhere. Moronta was buried on the depth chart last season, but at some point in 2019, he could rise to the top.
The good: Black throws his fastball with even more velocity and spin than Moronta does, and that’s saying something. In 2018, he came back from elbow surgery and made significant progress on his chronically-high walk rates. He pitched at three levels, reaching the majors in early July and struck out 33 batters in 23.1 innings. A 53.6 percent strand rate trashed Black’s ERA (6.17), but SIERA (2.83) and xFIP (3.45) reflected much more favorably on his rookie season.
The bad: Though Black’s four-seamer was a good pitch for drawing whiffs (15.9 percent), it got rocked when contact was made (.592 SLG). We also need to be cautious about assuming that Black has conquered his control issues. He did throw only 39.6 percent of his pitches in the strike zone, and if his walk rate regresses, it will be increasing from an already-inflated 10.5 percent.
The outlook: If Black can make further improvements, he could surge ahead of Moronta in the pecking order, but we should note that he is two-and-a-half years older than his teammate. In a depleted bullpen, Black could stand a chance to earn some saves, but it may not be realistic to expect him to improve his skill set dramatically.
Who do you think will get the most saves for the Giants in 2019? Could it be someone not even included here? Let me know in the comments below.
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.