Earlier this off season, the San Francisco Giants doled out a two year contract extension to Javy Lopez for $8.5 million while also picking up the $5 million option on Jeremy Affeldt’s knee buckling curve ball. Combined with the $8.5 million that the team already committed to closer Brian Wilson for 2012 and the $6 million they are projected to pay the arbitration eligibles Ramon Ramirez, Santiago Cassilla and Sergio Romo, the team has suddenly accumulated one of the more expensive bullpens in the league.

That’s not to say that Giants relievers haven’t earned their increased price tag. The six pitchers mentioned above along with Guillermo Mota (and a few other spare parts) had the highest ground ball rate and lowest home run rate among all bullpens in baseball while putting up the second lowest ERA and FIP in the league.

Yet, despite the team’s early off season commitment to keeping the bullpen locked up, high cost be damned, the San Francisco Giants appear to be having second thoughts. It’s worth mentioning that these second thoughts came about almost immediately following a contract extension security blanket being handed to General Manager Brian Sabean.

For a club looking to rebuild its bullpen through means other than the free agent market, second thoughts can be very good. While the contracts that come with Affeldt, Lopez and Wilson aren’t all that appealing and the availability of Romo’s low cost dominance should be nil, there are two relievers at the rumoured Giants bullpen sale worth asking questions about. Ramon Ramirez and Santiago Casilla are both projected to earn something in the neighbourhood of $2 million through arbitration this coming season and both were brilliant for San Francisco this past year, arguably just as good or better than closer Wilson.

While this is the second season in a row that Casilla has shown this type of ability, it was something new for Ramirez, who according to Ken Rosenthal is the more likely of the two to be shopped by the Giants.

Ramirez came to San Francisco at the trade deadline in 2010, and while he was effective down the stretch, disappointing results came during the playoffs because of an over reliance on his fastball. That changed in 2011, when he began relying on his hard 87 miles per hour slider for more than situations with two strikes. By using his video game ridiculous slider earlier in the count, Ramirez was able to get ahead and force bad at bats from his opposition.

This one change forced batters to chase and gave Ramirez the freedom to work the edges of the strike zone. We see evidence of this in the increased percentage of opposition swings at pitches outside the zone and an overall decrease in pitches in the zone. As a result, overall swing rates went way up while overall contact rates went down.

With this approach, Ramirez went from a common right handed reliever to the type of bullpen stalwart that any team would want to call their own.

The Toronto Blue Jays have been rumoured to be associated with several available relievers, and while Ramirez shouldn’t be an exception, it’s worth noting that the Boston Red Sox pitching coach overseeing Ramirez when he was foolishly saving his best pitch for select situations was none other than current Blue Jays manager John Farrell. It will be interesting to see if that history plays a role in not only the pursuit of the pitcher, but also his potential use.

I wonder if the Giants would be interested in including Dave Righetti in a proposed deal as well.