Wait ‘Til Next Year- Bullpen

The bullpen is probably the hardest position to forecast because relievers tend to be pretty volatile in their perfomances.  Because they throw so few innings compared to starters, and because each outing is usually for a few innings at most, there can be a lot of luck in their numbers and perfomances.  Even if a guy’s not especially lucky in what happens when he throws the ball, it’s not uncommon to see a reliever have a great year followed up by a mediocre or worse season.  Most relievers are guys with positives (good stuff usually, maybe good command) but also glaring negatives (no command with the good stuff, etc.).  Sometimes they come out and everything is working, and sometimes it isn’t.  Sometimes that changes the next time out, sometimes it lasts all year.  Sometimes they’re just bad pitchers.

For all those reasons and others, bullpens tend to turn over a lot, year to year.  Relievers, aside from established closers and occasionally set-up men, don’t generall make big contracts, and with good reason, as we’ve discussed above.  Teams who give big contracts to relievers don’t often come out on top.  In recent seasons, especially since Zduriencik took over, the Mariners have mostly taken the approach of finding as many guys with big arms and good stuff as they can and waiting to see which ones work out.  Brandon League probably cost the most, as the team gave up Brandon Morrow for him.  Everyone else that I can think of was either in the system or signed or traded for with little talent or money lost.  The results have been mixed, but we’ll get into whether the process is good another day.

Roster breakdown after the jump!

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As before, guys under contract for 2011 in bold, minor league depth below that.

2011 Bullpen

David Aardsma

Mark Lowe

Brandon League

Shawn Kelley

Sean White

Ryan Rowland-Smith

Kanekoa Texeira

Josh Fields, Anthony Varvaro:  Picking guys from the minors to come in as relievers is tough.  Most are failed starters (see below), but a few come through the system as relievers.  These are the two that get mentioned the most.  Fields was Bavasi’s last first round pick.  He hasn’t dominated as hoped yet, but he has a big fastball and bigger curve and mostlyneeds to find command.  Varvaro was a guy who had surgery at draft time and was picked later than was expected because of it.

Minor league depth otherwise could be anyone at Tacoma, or possibly West Tennessee.  Looking at the West Tenn. rotation I talked about in the last post, Cortes, Robles, and to a lesser degree, Hill are all guys who could move quickly if they were moved to the bullpen.  No one else really jumps out, but there are guys that could come up and do a decent job if you were out of bodies.

Potential Losses

Jesus Colome: Not a big deal.  I’m sure they could get him back for 2011 if they wanted, but he’s not under contract.  There’s almost always a guy like him who can be signed to a minor-league contract in the offseason.

Texeira:  Kanekoa is under contract for next year, but if he doesn’t stay with the team all this year, the Yankees could take him back.  Again, not a big deal either way, and with the team struggling, there’s no reason to think they’ll lose him.

Aardsma:  He’s under contract, I just have him here to prove a point, that being again that the bullpen is the least predictable part of the team.  If the Mariners find themselves out of contention this year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Aardsma traded while he’s throwing well, a la J.J. Putz.  Except Putz wasn’t throwing too well when he was traded.  Anyway, don’t be surprised to see at least one of the current guys gone in trade before next year, and don’t be too sad about it either.  Relievers can sometimes bring in a lot more than they’re worth in trade, and they’re often fairly easily replaced.  The only reliever we’ve traded where it really turned out bad was Rafael Soriano, and that’s mostly because he was traded for Horacio Ramirez.  You could’ve traded Sean White for Ho-Ram and it would’ve been a bad deal.

Analysis

There’s not a lot to analyze.  If we had the same group next year, at least one would likely take a step forward, one or more would take a step back, a few guys would get switched out at some point for minor leaguers most people haven’t heard of. 

The most important things I see are:

  • Getting Mark Lowe healthy
  • Getting value in trade for Aardsma (or Lowe if he’s healthy) if it’s there
  • Getting Fields back on the fast track
  • League finding some consistency

If that all happens, and you bring in one more guy, whether an Aardsma-type that you get cheap and hit it big with, or someone you pay a little more for, then you’ve got a pretty excellent bullpen.   But it could very well look totally different, and that would be fine too.

-Matthew

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