Monday, December 05, 2016

Your 2017 Giants: Melancon signed to 4 years, $62M contract to be Closer

It has been tweeted by a number of places, here is the link to MLBTR which captures all the twists and turns, and details of the deal:  4 years, $62M.  Detail of the contract, per Jeff Passan tweets:   $17M first two years, with player opt-out after two seasons, and it is front loaded with $20M signing bonus, $12M upfront ($8M second year), and guaranteed $34M ($4M and $10M salaries) over first two years.  And if he opts into last two years, they are at $14M each (low, so if he's still closing well, he most likely will opt out).   I'll place more in the comments if there are any more.  Of course, pending his passing a physical with the Giants, but this is generally a gimme, it is generally a done deal by this point.

This easily breaks the record 4 years, $50M that Papelbon got as a closer, but will be easily beat by both Chapman and Jensen when they sign their contracts.   Also, it will put the Giants over the new $195M spending threshold, meaning a third year of overage, which equals a 50% tax on the overage.  I'll calc what my spreadsheet says about this, but this seems about right, there was not a lot of space left in the budget, hence why the Giants are talking about going with Williamson and Parker in LF.  Plus, if a good enough LF in the $1-3M range falls to them in Jan/Feb, I assume that they will take a flier, like they did with Huff in 2010.

I'll pass along some info on Mark Melancon from MLBTR, as they also has a profile, from which I'll quote some interesting tidbits.  He has made three All-Star stints in the last four years and had a sub-2.00 ERA during that stretch.  Here are his strengths per MLBTR:
Melancon doesn’t flash the gaudy velocity of fellow free-agent closer Aroldis Chapman, nor does he boast Kenley Jansen’s ludicrous strikeout totals, but he’s turned in a better ERA than either one of them since the start of the 2013 season (1.80) and has also pitched the highest number of innings of any of the three in that time (290). 
... Melancon has averaged 8.3 K/9 against a minuscule 1.4 BB/9 rate in that four-year stretch. Melancon uses his cutter to rack up grounders at an enormous rate; he’s 22nd of 222 qualified relievers with a 57.4 percent ground-ball rate dating back to 2013 and has actually been more effective against lefties than righties due to that pitch, so he doesn’t come with platoon worries. Those ground-ball tendencies and his excellence, even when hitters hold the platoon advantage, are among the reasons that it’s so difficult to leave the yard against Melancon. Since 2013, his 0.31 HR/9 rate trails only Wade Davis among qualified relievers. He’s given up just 10 homers in those 290 innings. 
... He’s never been on the disabled list in either the Major Leagues or in the minors, and he’s averaged 74 appearances and 72 innings per season over the past four years. 
Melancon will turn 32 years old next March, making him the oldest of the “big three” closers on the free-agent market this year. His consistency and durability mitigate some of the concern that stems from his age, but the fact that a long-term deal could run through his age-35 season isn’t something that’ll be lost on teams as they negotiate with his representatives. 
It hasn’t shown up much yet in his bottom-line results, but Melancon’s contact rate and swinging-strike rate have trended in the wrong direction in each of the past two seasons, and he’s also seen the rate at which hitters chase out-of-zone pitches against him decline in that time. He’s down from averaging a strikeout per inning in 2013-14 to averaging 7.7 K/9 in the past two seasons. His K-rate did bounce back a bit in 2016, but this past season represented the lowest swinging-strike rate and chase rate as well as the highest contact rate that Melancon has allowed since 2013. 
As one might expect for a pitcher that recently entered his 30s, Melancon’s velocity isn’t quite what it once was. He averaged 91.9 mph on his oft-used cutter and 92.7 on a more seldom-used four-seam fastball in his first season with the Bucs, but those marks sat at 90.9 and 91.8, respectively, in 2016. 
This isn’t necessarily his fault, but Melancon hasn’t proven much in terms of pitching multi-inning stints recently, and the 2016 postseason showed a perhaps-increasing trend in that direction. Melancon has just nine multi-inning appearances over the past four years, with his longest 2016 outing being a two-inning stint late in the season. Certainly, it’s not up to him to determine how managers Clint Hurdle and Dusty Baker have deployed him, but some lengthier outings might’ve done his stock a small favor.
MLBTR predicted a contract in the $52-56M range, over 4 years, so they were off only slightly, pretty good estimate.

ogc thoughts

While he doesn't have as much strikeout power as the other two relievers, I like that his ERA is lower than Jansen and Chapman.  Chapman was hindered by GAB, but Jansen benefited from Dodger Stadium, and Melancon pitched in a pitchers park in Pittsburgh, so the move to SF and AT&T could help mitigate the negatives noted above by MLBTR.   Plus, even if the K's go, he's been a groundball machine, and with our great infield defense, that should help him out a lot.

While he's older, guys who rely on velocity hit their decline at a steeper downward velocity angle (see Lincecum) once it does go away, and power guys don't usually last into their mid-to-late 30's either.  And (again Lincecum), sometimes once they pass 30, which is the first milestone age hurdle good players usually has to make over.  And, again, because he has been able to induce a lot of ground balls, that will help in his transition to slower pitches.

Another key thing is that his walk rate is minuscule at 1.4 BB/9, so even as he regress with age, his K/BB ratio should still be pretty good.  Arodis is at 3.6 BB/9 over his past 5 seasons, so even though he has crazy K-rates, his K/BB at 4.30 over that period is lower than Melancon's 5.96; and BB/9 regresses higher with age, while K/9 regresses lower.  Jansen however, has been almost as great in limiting walks, while also striking out a lot of batters like Chapman:  2.1 BB/9 and 6.35 K/BB, which is slightly better than Melancon.  However, Kenley took things to a whole different level in the past two seasons:  1.4 BB/9 and 9.68.  Still, Melancon can get hitters in multiple ways:  low walks, low hits, low HR, leading to low OPS, plus high K/9 and high groundball rate.

Jansen's got a few issues that I think hurt him in the Giants eyes.  First of all, he got a qualifying offer, which he turned down; Melancon and Chapman both were traded mid-season and thus would not cost the signing team any draft pick.   The Giants is slated to get either pick 20 or 21, or better if any team in teens lose their draft pick (which a number of them did last season).  Second, while he is much younger than Melancon (only 29 YO vs. 32 YO for 2017 season), he most likely will get at least a 5 year contract (Chapman is asking for 6 years), which would take him to age 33 (34 if he gets a sixth year like Chapman).  More years is more risk.  Thirdly, he had a serious heart condition that he previously battled, an irregular heartbeat, which caused him to miss significant time in 2011 and 2012, before getting surgery to fix that after the 2012 season.  He's been healthy, but still, it was his heart, and it's a long and costly contract.  If you'll recall, Nen's contract after he was injured, was an anchor on our roster for a couple of years, resulting in our couple of weird years of closer of the moment (remember Dustin Hermanson?).

Lastly, as a lesson as to how relievers grow into their role, Melancon had his first good full season in his 26 YO season (his breakout year was in 2010 with Houston, when he was 25 YO), but came into his own in his 28 YO season.  Strickland and Osich will be 28 YO next season, Law 26 YO, Okert 25 YO, plus Will Smith will be 27 YO.  Blach and Stratton will be battling for a spot as well, and both will be 26 YO next season.  Evans said in an interview that Blach is considered the incumbent for the #5 starter's spot, which means that Cain will be battling Blach for that spot, along with Heston and perhaps Stratton.  And Suarez will probably be battling Blach, Stratton, and perhaps Cain for the long relief role.

Time's Running Shorter for Core:  Giants Decide Its Time to Go All In (Again)

Overall, while I'm leery of any contract of this size, particularly for a closer, the Giants clearly needed to get someone to shore up the back-end, as they just as clearly has all the pieces linked up from middle relief to setup.  I thought that they were going to muck around with the big three to drive up their prices, and then sign Greg Holland (apparently the Dodgers are now kicking Holland's tires, which is a red flag on Jansen's future health), as he would only cost us a one year contract at a reasonable price.  But given that he was out last season, that apparently was too high a risk for the Giants to take.  Particularly, now that I think about, since our core players are now in their baseball middle ages, and about to break 30. So the Giants went all in again, like they did last season in picking up Cueto, Samardzija, and Span.

So they clearly have decided to make sure to capitalize on their chances now rather than to take a chance again that the relievers would cost us like they did last season.  Seems to line up with the Giants preference last season too, as Melancon was the guy they wanted the most, and then second-guessed themselves after the season, whether they tried hard enough to trade for him, as he could have been the key to a long post-season run through the playoffs.   And they gave another player opt-out to attract a good player to play for a couple of years.  Wonder when that will bite them in the rear, but hopefully not his time.

I like that he's got the key things you want in a reliever:  low walks, high strikeouts (or high enough in his case), and low HR/9 (especially impressive since he was pitching in Pittsburgh, which has a park that favors HR's).  Plus he's experienced, and never been injured, and he has a cutter, his money pitch, that isn't that hard on the arm always (see Mariano) but it depends (see BWeez).  The contract is meh, as most contracts are of this size, as you never know (see Ray Durham), but it's not my money.  But it could hamper them should it not work out.

He's definitely a guy who fits the bill, an experienced closer, and it only cost us money, versus prospects or draft picks, and if they can keep him healthy for two years, he'll be gone, just like Cueto most likely will be gone after 2017, barring injury (Beede most likely ready by then to take over).   Lots to like about getting him, feeling excited about our chances to win the division title with him, and then to go deep into the playoffs.  We played Chicago pretty closely in the playoffs, so it could have gone either way.  And they won't have Chapman next year unless they pony up and get him re-signed, which is still possible, but you have to think that the Yankees really want him back too.

2017 25-man Roster

It is pretty much set now, it seems with a few question marks here and there.

Rotation is Bumgarner, Cueto, Moore, Samardzija, plus fifth starter.  Evans said that Blach has the incumbents role right now, but Cain will be pressuring him to get back his spot.  The loser is probably the long reliever, so Albert Suarez could be the 40-man DFA to clear a spot for Melancon (Crick too, but I think the Giants aren't ready to give up on him yet; but this is probably his last year).  Heston and Stratton might also contend.  Have to think Heston is traded sometime this season if he's not pitching in the majors, just to extract some value since he did so well in the majors in 2015.

Bullpen is Melancon, Smith, Strickland, Law, Guerrin, and the final spot (assuming the usual 7 bullpen spots) is going to be a battle between Okert and Osich.   Both still have options (though I think it's the last one for Osich).

Lineup is likely to be composed of Posey, Belt, Panik, Nunez, Crawford, LF, Span, and Pence, with Williamson battling Parker for the spot, and the other being the 4th OF.  I doubt anyone will be signed to start in LF, as that would add to the penalty tax (50% tax on overage) plus then Williamson would probably be sent to AAA to start, and we won't know if he can start or not if he don't start.  But with the aging core, they could decide that they need to sign someone on the cheap.

Bench will be similar to last season, with Brown as the backup catcher, Gillaspie as the good bat off the bench playing 1B and 3B, with the LF loser taking #4 OF spot, and Gorkys Hernandez being the 5th OF who can play CF well and spell Span as needed.  Last spot will be MI utility guy, and that is probably Ehire Adrianza.   That will be playing on the edge, since only Adrianza can play SS (though Brown had played 2B previously, and Nunez probably can play there in a pinch, but hopefully not, as 3B has been his only steady spot.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! Yes, he should be in the mix, battling with Adrianza for the infield spot.

      And probably with Gillaspie as well, though Kelby should still have one more option and that could push him back to AAA if the other two performs well in spring, as that is how it worked out last season.

      Appreciate the assist, thanks again!

  2. More info has come out:

    Good Schulman article on the deal, includes details on Melancon (wife, two kids). Giants are over $200M for the first time with the deal, and with the new CBA, and their third straight time penalized, they are paying a 50% penalty on spending over $195M, so he's costing us an extra $2.5M+ (depending on how over they are; haven't looked at my spreadsheet yet but I will need to adjust given this new info, plus be mindful of the unknown "Benefits" portion that is an estimate, at best, given clues like this regarding the tax threshold).

    I also read somewhere the further detail about the $8M bonus that is not paid in his first season. Like Cueto's deal, that also has a two year player opt-out, that $8M is payable at the end of the contract. Hence, if he opts out after the 2018 season, he will get that $8M then, but if he doesn't opt out (which basically means that his performance went down that badly that he don't think he could get better than a 2 year, $28M contract), then the $8M is paid out at the end of the four year contract, pushing out the cash flow, reducing the present value of that bonus.

    Thus, he's either getting $16M in 2017 and $18M in 2018, if he opts out, or if he doesn't, $16M in 2017, $10M in 2018, $14M in 2019, and $22M in 2020.

    1. Forgot to add that there has been no announcement yet on who will be removed from the 40-man roster. @GiantsProspectTalk on Twitter stated a number of choices: Suarez, Crick, Heston, Kontos. These are good choices, as I could not see any other names that is either as much on the edge or has the trade value to consider.

      I think there's no way Heston or Kontos are the ones, unless they are being traded, which is a possibility, as Heston likely will be in AAA again, and with Law and Okert ready for a bigger role, the bullpen has more qualified relievers than spots, meaning that most likely Okert or Osich will end up in AAA because they are the ones with options and haven't shown as much as Law has, Kontos being the old guy now, could be traded as well.

      Between Suarez and Crick, I think that Crick is young enough that they will want to keep him one more year, whereas Suarez, being the 6th starter, right now probably has no spot, with Blach and Cain battling for the 5th starters spot, it is likely that the loser of that battle will end up the long reliever, as Cain has a big contract, and Blach showed that he seemed ready to be a major leaguer. Losing him won't hurt that much, we have alternatives, as well as the fact that he probably has little value at the moment.

    2. Oh, I should also have noted that I'm not sure about the timing of the $8M, so my assumption is that it is paid in the same season as him leaving the Giants as a free agent.

      If the deal has him being paid in the year after, which is the way I would do it if I were the GM, it would be huge for the Giants: difference is minimal for the player, being paid in November vs. being paid two months later in January, but would be a huge difference for the Giants payroll in terms of the payroll penalty threshold. I would like to assume this, but given no details, I took it at face value, that he is paid after leaving. I'll update this if I hear later.

  3. Could they be possibly packaging Heston and Cain?

    1. The Giants ended up trading Hesto to Mariners for a player to be named later. It could be conditional on how he performs this season, as measured by games started, I would guess.

      In any case, no team is taking Cain because of his salary, unless Beede is attached for nothing much in return.

      Thanks for the comment.

    2. Saw the trade shortly after I posted. I thought the balance of salaries might've been appealing... but I'm no baseball executive.

      Yours has been the first blog I check for commentary on the Giants for several years now. Love your positive outlook and reasoned views. Looking forward to another entertaining baseball season. Cheers.

    3. Thanks! I try my best.

      I'm positive because the Giants under Sabean has been mostly positive. I would have been much more negative with the prior GM's.

      Some negative notes that I'll be watching include:

      * Bochy's poor one-run record in recent years. Has his heart problems caused him to fall a notch? And start a downturn? Or poor closers?

      * Sabean had been aces before in terms of keeping the right ones and trading the others, but Wheeler has been good, and Duvall even better. Will more good ones slip out of his kimono?

      *. We are in the danger zone with our core players, nearing 30. Posey does not have a classic C body, and his ankle is probably barking. Belt and Crawford is there as well. Pence might not stay healthy.

  4. I like Melancon because he's a pitcher, not a thrower. Throwers are fine when they're young, but their lack of strategy and average secondary pitches do them in when they lose the fast-ball edge. Melancon is really about the secondaries and sequencing and not about just blowing the doors off of batters on the way to Tommy John surgery.

    1. These are really good points, it articulated the difference between him and the other two really well. Thanks for sharing, much appreciated.



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