Rock­ies re­al­ize stronger bullpen is vi­tal, but can they get in game?

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Pa­trick Saun­ders

At Dodger Stadium, the sight of closer Ken­ley Jansen tak­ing the mound meant it was time cue up the Dodgers’ vic­tory song — Randy New­man’s “I Love L.A.”

In other lo­cales — Den­ver and San Fran­cisco quickly come to mind — the lack of a trusted bullpen sig­naled white-knuckle time. The Rock­ies posted a ma­jor league­worst 5.13 ERA and blew 28 save chances this year. The Gi­ants blew 30 save chances and lost nine games in which they led en­ter­ing the ninth in­ning, both ma­jor-league highs. They ended up los­ing the NL West ti­tle to the ri­val Dodgers by just four games.

So what did the Gi­ants do? They made the first big splash of the off­sea­son, sign­ing Mark Me­lan­con to a four-year con­tract worth $62 mil­lion. It was the largest con­tract for a re­liever, eclips­ing the four-year, $50 mil­lion deal the Philadel­phia Phillies gave Jonathan Papel­bon be­fore the 2012 sea­son. But Me­lan­con’s place atop the list didn’t last long. A few days later, the New York Yan­kees landed left-handed flame-

thrower Aroldis Chap­man for five years at the cost of $86 mil­lion.

The trend is clear: If you want to be a true con­tender, a bul­let­proof bullpen is es­sen­tial. Gi­ants man­ager Bruce Bochy summed it up last week at base­ball’s win­ter meet­ings.

“I think more and more we’re re­al­iz­ing how im­por­tant a closer is,” Bochy said. “They sta­bi­lize your sea­son. Be­cause when you lose games late, it’s a blow. It’s a shot to the chin. And you take enough of ’em, it can wear your team out.”

The Rock­ies talked with Me­lan­con and his rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and a source said that Me­lan­con, a prod­uct of Golden High School, was open to re­turn­ing to Colorado but only if the money be­ing of­fered was close, and if Me­len­con truly be­lieved the Rock­ies were a con­tender. In the end, Me­lan­con signed a huge con­tract and landed with a team that has World Se­ries as­pi­ra­tions.

“It was ob­vi­ous that this or­ga­ni­za­tion knows how to win, and that’s their top pri­or­ity,” Me­lan­con told San Fran­cisco re­porters.

The Rock­ies, it turned out, were never re­ally in the game.

“We kept in touch and checked in to see where his rep­re­sen­ta­tives thought the mar­ket would go,” Rock­ies gen­eral man­ager Jeff Bridich said. “He just ended up be­ing a bet­ter fit some­where else. … They knew that we were in­ter­ested, but I wouldn’t say we were at the front of the line.”

Of the big-three freeagent closers, only Jansen re­mained un­signed through Fri­day. Ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports, the Mi­ami Mar­lins were likely to beat out the Dodgers for Jansen, at a cost of about $80 mil­lion for five years.

Jansen, a pow­er­ful righthander with an elu­sive cut fast­ball, is the Dodgers’ fran­chise leader in saves with 189. He con­verted 47of-53 save chances last sea­son, then was used as a multi-in­ning re­liever dur­ing the Dodgers’ march to the Na­tional League Cham­pi­onship Se­ries.

The Mar­lins’ Don Mat­tingly, who man­aged Jansen in Los An­ge­les be­fore mov­ing on to Mi­ami for the 2016 sea­son, be­lieves Jansen would help turn the young Mar­lins into con­tenders in the NL East.

“He’s a guy that’s durable. He’s re­ally a guy with­out a lot of in­nings on him,” Mat­tingly said. “He’s a guy that has shown he’s ca­pa­ble of go­ing one plus. See­ing what (Dodgers man­ager Dave Roberts) did with him in the play­offs, be­ing able to stretch him out … give him a day off and then he’s right back out there. He’s a guy that showed dura­bil­ity, bounce-back and able to han­dle any sit­u­a­tion.”

The last two sea­sons have demon­strated just how much a deep and tal­ented bullpen is worth. The Kansas City Roy­als won the 2015 World Se­ries in large part be­cause of a bullpen that could take over a game from in­nings six through nine. Cre­ative use of re­liev­ers An­drew Miller, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Dan Otero led the Cleve­land In­di­ans to the 2016 Amer­i­can League pen­nant.

Chap­man, of course, helped the Chicago Cubs win their first World Se­ries ti­tle in 108 years, but the Cubs’ front of­fice de­cided not to get into a free-agent bid­ding war to re­tain him. In­stead, the Cubs swung a deal with the Roy­als, send­ing tal­ented, young out­fielder Jorge Soler to Kansas City in ex­change for closer Wade Davis.

Dur­ing the past three sea­sons, Davis has posted a 1.18 ERA with 47 saves over 185 ap­pear­ances. Cubs man­ager Joe Mad­don knows the right-han­der well from their time to­gether with the Tampa Bay Rays (2009-12), so that was a fac­tor in the Cubs’ think­ing.

“One thing we learned this year, and I know (Kansas City gen­eral man­ager Day­ton Moore) learned it in ’14 and ’15, is when you play that ex­tra month (in the play­offs), it’s re­ally hard on your bullpen,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said. “It’s re­ally hard on your whole pitch­ing staff. The more good re­liev­ers we can add to that, the more we can add that length and have ver­sa­tile weapons, the bet­ter.”

The Rock­ies, mean­while, con­tinue to say they’re search­ing for ways to bol­ster their bullpen, ei­ther through a free-agent sign­ing or through a trade. But Bridich has also re­peat­edly said that the Rock­ies may al­ready have their closer on their ros­ter, specif­i­cally men­tion­ing right-han­der Adam Ot­tavino, while not­ing that right-han­der Car­los Estevez, a rookie last sea­son, and veteran left-han­der Jake McGee have ninthin­ning ex­pe­ri­ence.

Still, it’s hard to imag­ine the Rock­ies be­com­ing con­tenders with­out bring­ing in some new re­liev­ers. Bridich has ac­knowl­edged the club’s in­ter­est in former Mi­ami left-han­der Mike Dunn, as well as right-handed sidearmer Brad Ziegler. Other free-agent re­liev­ers still on the mar­ket in­clude right-han­ders Nef­tali Perez, Joe Blan­ton and Yus­meiro Petit. The chal­lenge, as it al­ways is, is con­vinc­ing a pitcher to pitch at Coors Field.

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