SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Javier Lopez waited a long time for free agency. He was 33 years old. Hed missed qualifying the previouswinter by just five days of service time. He knew left-handed specialists always were prized by deep-pocket teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox.When you buy a Rolls-Royce, you dont skimp on the options. So it caught everyone off-guard when the Giants signed Lopezto a two-year, 8.5 million contract one day after the World Series ended. I know it surprised me, said fellow left-hander JeremyAffeldt.
Affeldt prepared for his 5 million option to be turned down. Theywerent going to spend close to 10 million on two left-handed relievers, were they? But a few hours later, Affeldt received word. He was coming back,too. Its the ideal scenario, Lopez said. We were bothexpecting itd be one or the other. Its a lot of money to commit to two guysand we understand that. We were keeping in contact and seeing how thenegotiations were going. Once the Giants stepped up with a multiyear deal in linewith his market value, Lopez lost all interest in playing the market. He hasbeen a part of six major league organizations. He didnt want to join a seventhjust for the thrill of chasing a few more dollars behind Door No. 2 assuming they were out there. You know what it was? The high of 2010 lingered for me,said Lopez, who gave up one hit and one walk in nine appearances that magicalpostseason. This was a special group of guys and I knew so many of them wereunder team control. Playing here is something I really enjoy. Its really toughto keep a bullpen together and the Giants have done a great job with that. Tobe able to show up and fall into the same rhythm was a major factor in wantingto come back. Giants GM Brian Sabean said the impetus to throw cash atboth lefty relievers was simple: The bullpen is a deciding factor with all the tight,one-run games within the NL West. Closer Brian Wilsons uncertain elbowplayed into the decision, too. Willy at the end of the year crashed and burned, Sabeansaid earlier this month. We went conservative with his rehab, and the bullpenwas one of our strengths the last three years. Not knowing if Willy would be atfull strength at the beginning of the year, how could we weaken that bullpen? Affeldt and Lopez pitched in a lot of high leveragesituations. We didnt want to break that up, and we didnt think (Dan) Runzlerwas ready to take over for one of them. As its been pointed out, the Giants could have let bothrelievers walk and used that money to sign Carlos Beltran. But they had noassurance that Beltran would want to return. At minimum, Sabean knew the All-Staroutfielder would want to wait until deeper into the offseason to flesh out allmarket possibilities. Thats a timeline that didnt fit the Giants, who couldnteternally hold up trades for Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan. And Lopez was ready to do business. Obviously, you want to set yourself up for the best dealout there, Lopez said. But a lot of it is being comfortable, too, and Ive beenthe new kid in school. Its the way of life as a reliever, and its not alwaysthe best feeling. It doesnt hurt to play in front of a packed house, either. Youll often hear players say they work their whole careersto get to free agency. But there are no guaranteed roses at your feet. Take Cody Ross, the 2010 NLCS MVP. After a stressful winterof negotiations, he ended up signing a one-year, 3 million deal with theBoston Red Sox. Hell go to Fenway Park, hoping to put up numbers and puthimself in a better position for next winter. Ross could have returned to the Giants, where he'll always be cheered. The club had reached out to him on a one-year dealearlier in the offseason, but he wanted three. Thats a mistake a lot of players make, said Bochy, answering a general question about free agency without mentioning Ross. They want to play itout. I dont want to mention names, but it ends up being detrimental to theirsituations. Its all about being where you want to be. Javy wanted tobe here, Brian was very fair and we got it done. I think thats the way itshould be more often. The Giants bullpen was second in the majors with a 3.04 ERA, and it wasn't just a pretty number. Lopezand Sergio Romo allowed Bochy to get favorable matchups in the late innings. Affeldtshard stuff played against either lefties or right-handers, making him aversatile piece. Theyre vital to our success, Bochy said. Javycomplements Sergio so well and Jeremy I can use in the seventh, eighth orninth. Having two left-handers, you arent worried about when to fire your onebullet. They have great stuff and theyve had tremendous success.Whether managing a bullpen or entering free agency, the key is knowing when to pull the trigger.