The strength of the 2011 San Francisco Giants was obviously their pitching staff. Unlike the starting rotation, who are under some sort of team control, the bullpen is a pretty significant question mark.
Most of the regulars from the 2011 bullpen are under team control, but they are all going to get expensive—so the Giants are going to have to decide who to pass on and who is a priority to bring back.
Javier Lopez is without a doubt the most important San Francisco free agent this offseason. Lopez could get upwards of $5 million per season for three or four years on the open market, as there will be significant interest in a left-handed specialist who is also more than capable of getting right-handed batters out.
The Giants have a decision to make on Lopez, and I would think that his work in the 2010 postseason coupled with his 2011 consistency would have convinced them to make bringing him back a priority—but at what cost?
Here is an update on Lopez as the Giants have re-signed him today.
Brian Wilson finished the season injured and is under contract for $8.5 million in 2012. 2013 will be his final arbitration season, and had he finished 2011 healthy, the Giants would most likely be looking to extend him, perhaps during spring training in 2012.
As it stands, they will need to see if he is healthy next year before they significantly commit to him past 2012.
Jeremy Affeldt has been a good pitcher for the Giants. He has had his downs but I believe that his ups have far outweighed them. Affeldt is fiery on the mound—a competitor in the true sense of the word. I could make an excellent case that the Giants do not win the World Series in 2010 without Affeldt's performance in Game 6 of the NLCS.
Baseball, like all sports, is a 'what have you done for me lately' business—so will the Giants exercise Affeldt's $5-million-dollar 2012 team option, or will they buy him out for $500,000?
I believe that they will buy him out and rework a new contract that gives them more flexibility to sign Javier Lopez, perhaps.
Ramon Ramirez will enter his final arbitration season in 2012, having earned $1.65 million in 2011. Ramirez is an excellent swing man in the bullpen, and has been quietly consistent ever since he was brought to the Giants in mid-2010.
Ramirez' salary will increase in 2012—how much, exactly, will determine if the Giants feel that they can afford to bring him back or try to fill his role with a younger, less-expensive pitcher like Steve Edlefsen.
Santiago Casilla is also entering his final arbitration season after making $1.3 million in 2011. Casilla has electric stuff, and always has. Casilla's downfall, however, has been his inconsistency with control, which showed up a few times in 2011.
Overall, Casilla is a very valuable pitcher to keep in the bullpen, and he proved that as the closer when Wilson went down in August 2011.
Casilla will be back, and I would expect a contract to be worked out before an arbitration hearing.
Guillermo Mota may have been the MVP of the bullpen in 2011. He was the long man, the short man and even started a game.
Mota settled games down that appeared out of control several times, and he is a fantastic clubhouse and bullpen presence, having played in the league for 11 seasons. The Giants were able to land Mota on a minor-league deal with a spring-training invite last year.
He is a free agent again, and I believe that it is going to take more than that this year to sign the big right-hander.
Depending on how many team show interest in Mota, it may take a multi-year deal to sign him, even though he will turn 39 in July 2012. Unless they can get him back on a one-year deal, the Giants should thank him for his service and fill his role with someone else.
Another pitcher is Sergio Romo. Romo enjoyed a historic season in 2011, posting an ERA of 1.50 and a WHIP of 0.70, all while compiling 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings and accumulating 14 strikeouts for every one walk in 65 appearances.
At one point in the season, Romo threw the relief pitchers' equivalent of a perfect game, retiring 27 batters in a row. To say he was dominant is a serious understatement, and the Giants are going to have to pay him, even though he is under team control.
Romo will be entering his first arbitration season having earned a "mere" $450,000 in 2011. The fact that it is his first arbitration opportunity will keep his price down a bit, but when has a relief pitcher entered arbitration with similar credentials who wasn't a closer?
The Giants should take the step of buying out Romo's first few arbitration seasons, especially in light of the uncertainty surrounding Brian Wilson's elbow.
Brian Sabean and his staff have some decisions to make on this unit of the team. Some will be easy; others will be far more difficult. Once the status of the bullpen is determined, they can move on to improving that wasteland of an offense that they rolled out in 2011.