There won't be a lot of changes coming to the San Francisco Giants this offseason, unless the front office decides to go in a completely different direction, which suffice it to say, is not going to happen. We're all looking for the team to upgrade their bullpen in one way or another, whether that is through one of the three big ninth inning relievers set to hit the market, or if they'll all snatched up, by cobbling together some effective relievers around either Hunter Strickland or Derek Law. There is also the hope that there will be an upgrade in left field, as there is every offseason, but this time around I think we can all agree that Mac Williamson is far from the worst option to consider giving more playing time to.
In the rotation the Giants will have Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Moore and then either Matt Cain or Ty Blach. The presumptive favorite to land this job would be Blach after the performance he turned in during the latter part of the season and into the playoffs. Cain isn't going anywhere, however.
Here is one farfetched, potentially crazy idea: Have Cain be the fifth starter. Sure, you're thinking that we've been down a similar road before and the results weren't pretty. That's where Blach comes in. Cain and Blach could act as tandem starters, with Cain taking the ball to start the game, giving it everything he has over a short period of time, then giving way to Blach.
According to FanGraphs, Cain was pretty solid the first time through the batting order this past year, posting a 2.52 ERA through the first nine batters, His home run rate was lower than the second and third time through the order, as he allowed four dingers in 35 2/3 innings, while surrendering six both the second (31 IP) and third (15.2 IP) time through the order.
In 17 regular season innings, Blach totaled a 1.06 ERA, which included his scoreless big league debut in relief at Coors Field and his eight shutout innings against the Dodgers in the final weekend of the regular season. There is some worry with his 3.62 FIP, which suggests that the defense behind him was bailing him out a bit, but even if he held a 3.62 ERA in 2017, the Giants would take it.
Blach's stats in regards to how he fared each time through the order are a bit misleading due to his small sample size and the fact that he only gave up two earned runs all season, but he is going to have a place on the opening day roster barring injury.
So essentially the proposal here is that the Giants send out Matt Cain for his one turn through the lineup, which could potentially be three innings if he retires the side in order all three times, and have Blach ready to come in as early as the third inning if the opposition is threatening. Then, have Blach take anywhere between three and five innings, depending on his pitch count and effectiveness, ultimately turning the ball over to a (please please please) revamped bullpen.
The Giants are in a unique position to make this work. They have Cain signed for a hefty price next season, and rather than dumping him and eating the money, which they haven't done with struggling pitchers in the past, may as well try and get as much as they can out of him, right? With Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzija and Moore, the team also has four other options that can give them innings each time out, which should lead to a relatively rested bullpen throughout the season.
"Bullpenning" is the idea that a team uses a starter for the first time through the order, then follows them up with another starting pitcher, linking the two to the team's closer, which is basically all that this is. The Cleveland Indians have been making numerous headlines with a similar tactic this postseason, bringing in relief ace Andrew Miller as early as the fifth inning to get the team through a couple of tough frames through the heart of the order before Terry Francona plays the match-ups en route to his closer in the ninth. Whether or not this idea is feasible over a 162 game schedule remains to be seen, but the Giants could be in a position to find out.
The obvious downside with this plan is using a roster spot on essentially a long reliever that would be on a regular rotation. That would certainly have an effect on the way that Bruce Bochy likes to play the match-ups with his relievers, but it would also give the Giants a good shot at a win each time out with their fifth starter while still preserving a role for Cain.
The other pushback would be, why not just have Blach start the game and have Cain come on in relief whenever it's necessary? That could work as well, as Cain got tougher against the opposition when they put runners on, so coming on in a tight situation could be right in his wheelhouse. That said, being a starter, as opposed to being a former starter forced to the bullpen due to ineffectiveness has a better ring to it, and Cain certainly deserves to end potentially his last season with the club with his head held high.