ORLANDO - There were few positive sights down the stretch last season for the Giants, but Will Smith occasionally gave the coaching staff a reason to smile. The left-hander's rehab from Tommy John surgery in late March went so smoothly that he was able to play aggressive games of catch at AT&T Park before going home for the winter.
The Giants believe Smith will be ready for opening day, barring a setback in spring training, and he should be fully back to his old self by the All-Star break, allowing Bruce Bochy to use him multiple days in a row or for multiple innings. They are even more confident that closer Mark Melancon, who had a minor procedure on his pitching arm, will be ready when pitchers and catchers report to Scottsdale the second week of February.
In an offseason when there are more holes to fill than answers, those developments could prove crucial. The confidence in Smith and Melancon has allowed general manager Bobby Evans to focus on the lineup here at the Swan and Dolphin Resort.
"We're still looking at the bullpen as an area we would like to strengthen, but we don't necessarily have that as our focal point at this stage of the offseason," Evans said.
The bullpen has been an issue for two years, but the Giants feel it will be much better in 2018. Melancon will serve as closer, with Sam Dyson - a 2017 surprise - and Smith giving Bochy two veterans in the eighth inning. If all three find their normal form, it's a reliable trio. The manager would love another lefty addition, but if nothing of significance is done, the Giants are confident that Ty Blach can be a weapon as a reliever. Hunter Strickland comes up in trade rumors but is likely to be back, and Cory Gearrin was tendered a contract last month after a solid season. Kyle Crick showed flashes of dominance as a rookie and there's still hope that Derek Law - once the future closer - will again become a force.
Once the dust settles and relievers start signing shorter-term deals, the Giants expect to add to the mix, but they also could get help from a couple of unlikely areas. They expect to use their second pick in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday and they have primarily been focused on hard-throwing relievers who were left off 40-man rosters elsewhere. Any player chosen would have to spend the year on the active roster to remain a Giant, but that's easier to do in the bullpen, and other teams have pulled it off in recent years.
Another 2018 option could be top pitching prospect Tyler Beede. Evans said he could break in as a reliever, although the preference remains giving him a shot to win a rotation spot. That could happen as early as the spring.
"Our discussions internally see him as very close to being ready," Evans said.