SAN FRANCISCO -- The best reliever on the market came very close to being a Giant in 2020.
Will Smith told teams that he would sign the one-year qualifying offer and return to San Francisco if they did not come up with better offers, and he came pretty close to holding true to that statement. Ultimately the Atlanta Braves stepped in, giving Smith a three-year deal just before the deadline to accept the qualifying offer.
That move left the Giants with a massive hole in the ninth inning, but the bullpen issues go beyond the closer role.
The Giants had one of the National League's best bullpens in the first half last season, but Sam Dyson, Mark Melancon and Drew Pomeranz were traded and Trevor Gott and Reyes Moronta got hurt. Of the six Giants who made at least 40 appearances out of the bullpen last year, only Gott and Tony Watson will be on the active roster on Opening Day.
That leaves a lot of room for newcomers, and Farhan Zaidi has said he likes his young depth and believes in some of the rookies who got a chance late last season. Shaun Anderson, Sam Coonrod, Tyler Rogers and Jandel Gustave are among those who could be in the mix for high-leverage jobs.
But you can expect the Giants to add plenty of experienced arms to the spring training mix, too.
Here's a look at the bullpen market now that Smith has left for his hometown:
The Top Tier
Yeah, it's uhh ... not a good offseason to be looking for a closer. You can make a strong case that Drew Pomeranz -- who signed with the Giants in January as a starter -- is the best reliever left out there. Pomeranz showed flashes of brilliance when the Giants moved him to the 'pen and they turned that promise into Mauricio Dubon. In Milwaukee, Pomeranz made himself a lot of money, striking out 45 batters in 26 1/3 innings while sitting in the high 90s with his fastball.
Will Harris, who had a 1.50 ERA last year for the Astros, is the top right-hander left on most boards. He has just 20 career saves but should pitch in the last couple innings for a contender next year. Daniel Hudson has had a rough few years but ended up as the postseason closer for the World Series champs, so he should be in for a nice raise.
The Giants have a need, but they also shouldn't pay for high-end relief pitching given their current roster situation.
The Former Giants
The Giants need good PR right now, and there are plenty of options if they want to go the #ForeverGiant route.
Sergio Romo, Cory Gearrin and Dan Otero are all free agents, along with a few relievers who pitched for the Giants in 2019: Kyle Barraclough, Fernando Abad, Nick Vincent and Derek Holland.
None of that moves the needle too much.
The Likely Answer
Zaidi wants flexibility in his bullpen, and he never spent much on free agent relievers in Los Angeles other than the Kenley Jansen contract. Want to know how the Giants will fill out their 2020 bullpen? Last year's model gives us a good starting point.
The Giants traded cash considerations for Gott, a hard-throwing right-hander they believed could be pretty good in a different situation. You can bet they're looking for the next opportunity to scoop up a similar player.
They gave a non-guaranteed deal to Vincent well after spring training had started, taking advantage of a market that has become cruel to veteran relievers. There will be plenty of options again as the offseason winds down.
There are a lot of familiar names out there -- Cody Allen, Carl Edwards Jr., Jeremy Jeffress, Hector Rondon, to name a few -- and a few veterans are going to be sitting around in early February looking for an opportunity. Zaidi should be able to add a few experienced arms to the spring mix and do so without spending much.
Finally, there's the method the team turned to late in the year. The Giants went young, and while the results were sometimes ugly, the front office does feel good about some of what was seen. Rogers was a revelation, Anderson showed a desire to pitch the ninth, and Coonrod had some big moments.
The Giants know they're in a situation where they can continue to give young guys a shot, with the hope that a year from now a few of them will look like foundational pieces for the 2021 bullpen.
MLB free agency: How post-Will Smith bullpen market looks for Giants originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area