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The Giants are why your team will pay too much for a closer this offseason

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These kinds of team-wide meltdowns are rare. But they’re the fear in the heart of every GM in July and December.

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The post-deadline scuttlebutt from Jon Heyman is that when the San Francisco Giants asked the New York Yankees about Andrew Miller, the response was that Joe Panik would have to be a part of the deal. The Giants, obviously, went in a different direction, and their real regret has to do with them missing on Mark Melancon, who was available for Not Joe Panik.

The exact words:

... the Yankees, not especially enamored by the Giants’ prospects, asked for Joe Panik. So the Giants don’t necessarily have real regret there.

It makes sense. Panik is struggling a bit after returning from a mid-season concussion, but he was an All-Star last year. He’s 25 years old and a superlative fielder at a tough position to fill, the kind of player who can be valuable even when he’s hitting .241/.317/.381, like he is this season. He’s under contract for the next four years and a big part of the Giants’ future plans. It’s not just sabermetric orthodoxy that you don’t trade a player like that for a reliever. It’s just baseball sense.

Computer, give me each player’s WAR since the All-Star Break:

COMPUTER: Joe Panik has struggled with a 0.4 WAR, while Andrew Miller has been worth six wins above replacement.

As you can see, each ... wait, that can’t be right. It’s hard for the best relievers in baseball history to be worth that much over two full seasons, much less one half. Run that for me again, computer.

COMPUTER: Joe Panik has struggled with a 0.4 WAR, while Andrew Miller has been worth six wins above replacement.

That just doesn’t make any sense. Computer, run diagnostics.

COMPUTER: All systems are nominal. Joe Panik has struggled with a 0.4 WAR, while Andrew Miller has been worth six wins above replacement.

COMPUTER: Well, he would have been.

COMPUTER: For the Giants.

Ah. You unfeeling sneak. The Giants have lost five games in September that they were leading after eight innings. There are two teams that have more losses when leading after eight all season. One of them plays in Coors Field. The Giants have lost more games after leading through eight innings all September than the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals have all season combined.

The Giants also had four such losses before September, and they’ve set a franchise record in both that category and blown saves.

The Giants haven’t had a good bullpen month.

So the computer’s logic is that Andrew Miller would have saved each and every one of those games for the Giants.

Computer, how many games back are the Giants in the NL West?

COMPUTER: Six.

COMPUTER: lol

So if you just move Miller onto the Giants, they’re at least fighting for the NL West. They have a death grip on a wild card spot, which means it just might have been worth it to trade Panik for Miller, just for the likelihood of winning this season.

Now, that’s not quite how baseball works. Miller could have blown a save here or there. And the pitchers he displaced (Santiago Casilla, Hunter Strickland, and Derek Law) might have blown games with just as much aplomb, just earlier in the game. So the computer’s sass is understandable, but not quite empirically accurate.

Still, you can understand the feelings of regret, the what-ifs. The Giants can tie their struggles directly to their failing bullpen. And the perfect storm of general failure that includes the lineup performing juuuuust poorly enough to put the relievers in awful, horrible predicaments over and over again.

Long setup short: The Giants’ 2016 season is the monster under every GM’s bed.

You know that relievers shouldn’t make that much of a difference over a 162-game season. I know it. When you add up the WAR, you’re talking about a swing of just a couple wins, at best. The reason the Atlanta Braves are 50-2 when leading after eight innings, despite having the spectacularly adequate Jim Johnson as their closer, is because it should be easy to hold a lead in the ninth inning, regardless of the particulars.

This offseason, Kenley Jansen might get a $90 million contract. And we’ll shriek in sabermetric horror. Then Mark Melancon will get $75 million. Aroldis Chapman? Well, I don’t even want to guess.

COMPUTER: It’s possible that the Giants might sign all three, trading Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner to make room on their payroll.

Dammit, not now, look, the point is that GMs will continue to make weird, seemingly nonsensical moves when it comes to the resources they allocate to closers. The Kansas City Royals will get a top prospect or three next July if they trade Wade Davis, who would be a pending free agent, and the Colorado Rockies might, too, if Jake McGee has a rebound season. The newfound strategy of putting together super-bullpens is something that’s usually being done with an eye toward the postseason, with Miller’s dominance for the 2014 Baltimore Orioles and the Royals’ two pennant-winning teams becoming the easiest songs for other teams to cover.

But it’s the fear of doing what the Giants have done that really drives the contracts. It’s that stray what if in the back of every GM’s mind, as he knows that extensions usually aren’t handed out for having the most efficient WAR/$ ranking in baseball, but that pink slips might be coming if the stupid bullpen blows another stupid lead that ends up with another stupid loss.

If you think fans hate that stuff, note that owners hate it more. And they’re rich people who are used to getting whatever they want. It’s not a good combination.

The Giants’ season is an outlier, of course. It’s a historically rare fluke of a season that was built with pitchers struggling at exactly the wrong time, compounded by a moribund lineup that keeps forcing them back out there to fail again. But I’ll stop laughing when teams like the 2012 Philadelphia Phillies give up scores of millions to a closer like Jonathan Papelbon. Because while I know how WAR works, I also know how easy it is for fans and owners to look back at the season and mutter, "If they had only won this game, that game, this game, and that game ..." while trailing off and staring into the sun.

Three teams will give closers an obscene amount of money to pitch for them next season. The odds suggest that none of the three will be the difference between the postseason and going home. The stats suggest that none of the three will be the difference between winning the World Series or getting knocked out in the first round. It’s just not likely, and it’s silly to focus on the worst-case scenarios as the motivation for dropping more than $50 million on a pitcher who will average about an inning every other game.

Then the GM looks in his wallet, and he sees the picture of the 2016 Giants he keeps in there to remind himself.

"Yeah, I can go for a seventh year on Chapman."

And it will all make sense, even if it makes no sense at all.


Madison Bumgarner has no chill with batters