Lowell Cohn: Giants need to get real with their 2017 roster

Chicago Cubs' Aroldis Chapman holds the Commissioners Trophy during a celebration honoring the World Series champions at Grant Park in Chicago, Friday, Nov. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)


Free-agent time in the Major Leagues. Time for the Giants to do soul searching. Time for the Giants to make changes.

The No. 1 need is painfully obvious. A closer. What Santiago Casilla used to be and isn’t anymore. A lights-out guy who owns the ninth inning.

The Giants learned that last season. They tried to finesse their way through the season with the back end of their bullpen, using Casilla here, Sergio Romo and a supporting cast there. They tried to finesse their way through the second half of the season and the playoffs. Disaster.

You can’t finesse your way through baseball. Or life, for that matter. Have to go straight at it. All this finesse cost the Giants the division and Game 4 against the Cubs in the Division Series. Over and out.

A serious team — and the Giants are a serious team — must have someone to come in for the ninth and finish off the game. Who can the Giants get?

They could go after three premier free-agent closers: Mark Melancon, Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. Although the Nationals, who had Melancon last season, might have something to say about that. Same goes for the Cubs and Chapman, and the Dodgers and Jansen. Lots of competition out there for closers because — repeat after me — closers matter.

If the Giants don’t want to pay a fortune for one of the big three, they might go down a level and try for Kansas City’s Wade Davis in a trade. He’ll earn a mere $10 million next season. A bargain.

Or the Giants could go after Greg Holland, who missed the 2016 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Giants attended Holland’s “showcase” outing to watch him throw. Clearly, they have an interest. Because they sure need someone.

The memory of Derek Law coming in to close out Game 4 against the Cubs, Law strangling on his own fear, should motivate the Giants to get real. They can experiment with the likes of Law, Hunter Strickland and Josh Osich when a game is not in crisis. Or they can decide not to.

The Giants also need an eighth-inning guy, someone to say, “I’ve got this inning, so get out of my way.” Preferably a right-hander.

Could be Jeff Samardzija. He throws gas. That could work in the eighth. They don’t need him as a starter. Or they could trade him for an eighth-inning guy or a third baseman or left fielder.

Now to the issue of starting pitchers. The Giants have three elite starters — Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Matt Moore. Three is enough. The Giants do not need to buy or trade for another starter. They can use Samardzija as the fourth guy and Ty Blach as No. 5. Or they could move Samardzija to the pen and use right-hander Tyler Beede as the fifth starter. He had a 2.81 ERA last season in Richmond.

With three elite starters and a no-nonsense bullpen, the Giants can win the National League West and play tough in the postseason.

Do the Giants face issues with their top three starting pitchers? Yes, with two of them.

There’s talk about rewriting Bumgarner’s contract. The club has an option for 2018, so just lock up the big guy now. Lock him up for life.

Not so fast. The Giants should tread carefully. See how Bumgarner does next season. His velocity is down — a red flag. At times, he seems arm weary. I’m not making up this stuff. Before they commit to Bumgarner like they committed to Matt Cain, the Giants must feel comfortable he still is Madison Bumgarner.

Johnny Cueto. In case you forgot, he can opt out after 2017. He may not want to opt out as he’s scheduled to earn more than $20 million each of the next six seasons. But you never know.

The Giants need a left fielder. A power-hitting left fielder. They need power wherever they can get it. Yoenis Cespedes may be available. Would be the ticket as far as the Giants are concerned. But if they pay big money for a closer, they may not have the dough for Cespedes, although Cespedes could cure a lot of ills.

If Cespedes is a no-go, the Giants might arrow in on Detroit’s J.D. Martinez — 22 homers last season. The Tigers want to trade him, and the Giants really really need a power-hitting left fielder.

Same could be said about center field. Denard Span was a bust. No way to sugarcoat that one. Can’t throw. A living, breathing invitation for runners to take the extra base. The Giants need a right-handed-hitting center fielder to platoon with Span. Or get this.

They could push hard to get Andrew McCutchen from the Pirates. Had an off season in 2016. Still a unique talent. Only 30. Distinct upgrade from Span.

Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker can get a shot at being the extra outfielder. Gregor Blanco, I assume, is gone.

Now for the Giants’ bench. They need one.

The Giants need a second catcher. Not Trevor Brown. The No. 2 catcher has to play, probably twice a week, and he has to bring something at the plate.

As good as he is, Buster Posey tails off, gets pooped, loses his power from all that catching. Posey needs to play first base twice a week. Otherwise, he’s just an expensive singles-doubles hitter. The Giants can put Brandon Belt in the outfield some of the time. Anything to keep Posey’s legs fresh.

The Giants need backup players who can actually play. Ehire Adrianza? Gorkys Hernandez? Seriously?

Eduardo Nunez was supposed to be the all-purpose bench whiz. Remember the Giants had Matt Duffy when they got Nunez. That’s before they traded Duffy for Matt Moore, an essential trade. Nunez can play third, short, second, you name it. And he can hit. When he became a starter, there went the bench. Conor Gillaspie is a good fill-in player. The Giants need more.

The Giants need more all around.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at