SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — And the 2020 Giants closer will be … nobody?
That is possible. Manager Gabe Kapler would not commit Friday to naming a single replacement for Will Smith, during a broader conversation about the evolution of roles in baseball.
“I think if somebody grabs hold of that position and makes it unequivocally clear that this person is the right player for the role, sure,” Kapler said. “I think there’s some value in naming a closer. We have to be flexible enough to say, ‘You know, right now we don’t have to name somebody the closer.’
“But I think that decision is going to be made for us as we go through camp.”
Kapler had set closers during most of his two seasons managing the Phillies. While 16 pitchers earned 80 saves, Hector Neris (39) and Seranthony Dominguez (16) had well more than half of them.
The Giants do not have an obvious candidate. They employ a seasoned reliever in Tony Watson who closed with the Pirates after they traded Mark Melancon in 2016. They also have a number of experienced short relievers and younger pitchers who fit the key job description: They throw gas.
Kapler and his staff have brought a new spring-training philosophy to Scottsdale, new for the Giants anyway.
They do not want their relievers to view themselves as short or long guys. The Giants plan to stretch most of the pitchers with multiple-inning outings in Cactus League games to prepare them for potential mid-game roles. They can always dial back the pitchers they deem a better fit for short relief.
Trevor Gott got that message Friday morning during what Kapler termed a “player plan meeting” and said the right-hander, who has the stuff to pitch late relief, was receptive.
Relievers traditionally prefer defined roles to help them gear up mentally and physically at the right time mid-game. But Kapler is among a new breed of managers who believe that flexibility is far more important for team success.
That word — flexibility — is being drilled into the heads of players in the minors throughout baseball. Then, as the prospects rise to the majors, they should be less hung up on roles.
“I think that the game is changing dramatically and relievers know that there are fewer of those surefire, ‘You’re the seventh, eighth and ninth guy,’ ” Kapler said. “Those are actually more rare now than anything else.
“I do think players in general like to know their roles, and in a perfect world we can lay that out for them. We don’t have relievers in our pen that are married to any role, and I think that’s fun and unique about our camp.”
Briefly: In line with the notion of flexibility, Austin Slater, primarily an outfielder, is taking grounders at all four infield positions. … Another change from past Giants camps: Starting Saturday, they will have three professional umpires available to call balls and strikes for pitchers during their bullpens. Also, Giants hitters can stand in the imaginary box. All of this is voluntary. … Kapler is not handing out jobs yet but said he expects Gott and sidewinder Tyler Rogers will be important pieces in the bullpen.
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