BOSTON — Brian Sabean doesn’t know whether the Giants will get an impact bullpen arm in a market flush with marquee buyers. But he knows exactly the type the front office will chase before the August 1 deadline.
“The real dilemma is how you upgrade, and it has to be meaningful,” the Giants’ executive vice president of baseball operations said. “It can’t just be a body.”
The Giants are aiming high in their search for bullpen help. In the past, Sabean and Bobby Evans have added matchup plays and middle relief types, and it’s worked out well. But Sabean made it clear Wednesday that as Evans canvasses the market — and the Giants are checking in on just about everyone — he’s looking for a back-end type.
The Giants have 18 blown saves this season, the most in the Majors. Before Wednesday’s loss at Fenway Park, Sabean was asked if he would be comfortable in the postseason with the current options in the eighth and ninth. The Giants have Sergio Romo setting up for Santiago Casilla.
“It’s a good question, but usually bullpens get on a roll like a rotation or a lineup,” he said. “They’ve got the experience. They’ve been there before, both of them. Then you lean on that. Having said that, we know how busy (the front office) guys are looking for some help. But it’s not just going to be the average Joe coming in.
“You’re thinking it’s going to be a meaningful piece, but the competition on the premium people is going to be real stiff and it already is.”
The Giants have watched as good prospects have been shipped away in early deals, and they know the ask on an Andrew Miller or someone similar will be astronomical and somewhat system-depleting. They’ll see Miller this weekend, along with Aroldis Chapman, who was suspended 30 games earlier this season for a violation of MLB’s domestic violence policy. The sense from Giants officials at the moment is that the incident hasn’t eliminated Chapman as an option. Asked about the type of addition he would prefer, Sabean described a pitcher who can get a strikeout in a big spot, someone who sounds very much like Chapman.
“The (way) the game is played now you want swing-and-miss,” Sabean said. “We got away with it a long time — and to their credit — with a lot of contact relievers. But the game has kind of changed in front of us. Now that wouldn’t preclude you from getting somebody that was as such, but selfishly you would want somebody that could really get through an inning and not have much flak in getting through the inning.”
Miller averages 15.24 strikeouts-per-nine and Chapman, who hit 105 mph earlier this week, is also elite at 12.71.
There are others on non-contending teams — like Milwaukee’s Tyler Thornburg or San Diego’s Ryan Buchter — who fit the strikeout mold, but not the rest of the wish list. The Giants have checked in on Philadelphia (David Hernandez has that kind of power stuff) and they could find a strikeout arm on a sinking team in their division; The Diamondbacks still have Tyler Clippard and Daniel Hudson available after dealing Brad Ziegler.
But the Giants are aiming higher, and while they're unlikely to trade off their 25-man roster they won’t completely rule it out. Team president and CEO Larry Baer said there is wiggle room in the budget, even with the Giants already paying the competitive balance tax. The bigger issue will be what is being sent back for an impact player.
“You know you’re going to hurt somewhere, it’s just how much pain you’re going to take,” Sabean said. “I think you’re seeing in some of these trades, the people who have been really aggressive have really gotten a premium guy back. That’s really what you have to decide — what side of the fence you want to be on.”
Regardless of where they end up, the Giants feel the current bullpen group will be better down the stretch. Sabean noted that the pecking order was out of whack when Romo went on the DL, and he said “we knew that (Josh) Osich and (Hunter) Strickland would have growing pains.
“When you don’t have that second guy and somebody like Casilla can’t pitch or he falters, you don’t really know where to turn,” he said, adding that manager Bruce Bochy turned to the matchups. “Having said that, I think things have a chance to settle down.”