Mark Melancon told reporters on Friday that he is considering surgery to repair a right forearm muscle injury that has lingered since 2012 and forced him to the disabled list twice already this season. While he was activated from his most recent DL stint on August 12, he says he’s pitching through pain to project leadership and help build team and personal momentum heading into 2018.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy and head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner have expressed that Melancon in not at risk for worsening the injury, and that the primary goal for all parties involved is for Melancon to be healthy and ready for spring training in 2018.
San Francisco signed the 32-year-old Melancon to a four-year, $62 million contract last offseason, which was at the time the largest deal ever handed out to a reliever. While the agreement was met with some skepticism because of Melancon’s age and relatively low fastball velocity (a risky combination), it was easy to understand why the Giants did it.
Their bullpen cost them the 2016 season. They blew an MLB-worst 30 saves, including a franchise record nine ninth-inning leads. All of that was before everything came crumbling down in NLDS Game 4 against the Chicago Cubs, when five relievers combined to squander a 5-2 ninth-inning advantage, thus ending their season.
Melancon was supposed to be the elixir. He was San Francisco’s only major addition in the offseason. The team essentially projected the message that their sole missing ingredient was a lockdown closer.
That has turned out to be completely false. Several key players have underperformed, left field has been a gaping hole, the starting rotation has been either banged up or ineffective, and the bullpen is still mediocre at best.
It all began ominously on Opening Day, when Melancon couldn’t protect a one-run lead against the Diamondbacks despite retiring the first two batters of the inning.
Before 2017, the most saves Melancon had ever blown in a season was five. He had four with the Giants through June 18, then came the first of two stints on the disabled list.
Meanwhile, the Giants got a lockdown closer (practically for free) in June. Sam Dyson was so, so bad early in the year for Texas, but he’s been fantastic ever since joining the Giants:
Sam Dyson (2017)
There’s a lesson in here somewhere. The Giants probably would have been better served spending the $62 million elsewhere, especially when they had a glaring hole in left field, two aging and declining veterans in center and right, and a light-hitting and defensively challenged third baseman slated to start the season.
The lesson may be that teams shouldn’t act as though their upcoming season will resemble their previous one. Mark Melancon was just what the Giants needed in 2016, but it turns out he isn’t at all what they needed in 2017. Even if he was healthy and pitching well, he wouldn't have done much about the team’s -105 run differential.
Only time will tell if Melancon returns to form and helps the Giants win meaningful games in 2018 and beyond. For now, however, the Giants probably regret the signing, and it may actually have a lot to do with their suddenly bleak long-term outlook.
Ben Kaspick is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score and RotoGraphs, and the owner-operator of CoveCast, a saber-slanted San Francisco Giants podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @benkaspick or @Cove_Cast.