Giants find their closer, give Melancon 4-year deal
Committing an unprecedented sum of money in an attempt to offset unprecedented lapses in performance, the Giants announced Monday that they obtained the closer they sought by agreeing to a four-year contract with free-agent right-hander Mark Melancon. An industry source confirmed Melancon's contract is worth a total of $62 million, including a $20 million signing bonus of which $12 million will be paid up front. The deal includes salaries of $4 million in 2017 and $10 million in 2018, after which Melancon may opt out of the deal. If Melancon opts into the last two years, the salary is $14 million per season.
The pact's average annual value of $15.5 million and the total figure established highs for relief pitchers. Both all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera, whose salary topped out at $15 million annually, and Jonathan Papelbon, who signed for $50 million over four years with Philadelphia before the 2012 season, were eclipsed.
Melancon is not expected to remain the game's highest-paid reliever for very long. Right-hander Kenley Jansen and left-hander Aroldis Chapman -- two other top closers available in free agency -- likely will command more lucrative deals.
"To be able to land a closer first is kind of nice," Giants general manager Bobby Evans said.
The unique circumstances of this offseason, featuring a short supply of closers combined with considerable demand for their services, forced Melancon's contract skyward. So did the Giants' near-desperate need to find a closer who could not only protect ninth-inning leads, but also provide stability for San Francisco's other relievers, whose roles were ill-defined last season.
"It gives the club peace of mind, with so many close games that we play, that we have a lockdown guy for the ninth inning," Evans said.
While losing faith in Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo, San Francisco blew 30 saves in 2016, the most in franchise history since saves became an official statistic in 1969. That included nine defeats in games when the Giants led entering the ninth inning, another franchise mark. Five of those losses occurred in September. Moreover, they absorbed six defeats after leading by at least four runs, compared with five such setbacks in 2014-15 combined.
Melancon inherits the responsibility of curing these ills. A three-time All-Star, he has pitched for the Yankees, Astros, Red Sox, Pirates and Nationals since 2009. San Francisco tried to obtain him from Pittsburgh at last season's non-waiver Trade Deadline, but Washington gained his services instead.
Though Melancon will be 35 years old when his contract expires, Evans cited his durability as a factor that eased any anxiety the Giants might have felt. Melancon has appeared in at least 71 games in five of the previous six seasons.
Melancon tends to coax a high percentage of ground balls -- 56.1 percent lifetime, according to Fangraphs.com -- which should complement San Francisco's sure-handed infield.
"He's perfect for our defense," Evans said. "We just feel like this is going to be a great fit for us."
Melancon's capable of relying on strikeouts, a closer's best friend, though he's not exceedingly overpowering. His 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings in 2016 matched his career average. That represented an improvement from 2014, when he averaged 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
Melancon has recorded 168 career saves, reaching a personal best with a Major League-leading 51 in 2015 with Pittsburgh. He has converted 98 of 104 save opportunities in the past two seasons and is coming off a 2016 campaign in which he recorded a 1.64 ERA and 47 saves in 51 chances over 75 games.