Wednesday, February 20, 2008

2008 Bullpen Competition

posted by Jon

Last season, Seattle broke camp with a bullpen consisting of Julio Mateo, Brandon Morrow, J.J. Putz, Chris Reitsma, Arthur Rhodes, George Sherrill and Sean White.

2008 will see a much different bullpen coming out of Spring Training, with J.J. Putz being the only true lock. Putz used 2007 to solidify himself as one of the games best, converting his first 28 save opportunities on his way to becoming the second pitcher in franchise history to reach the 40 save plateau. He posted a career low 1.38 ERA and 0.70 WHIP, and would have added to his save total if it wasn’t for the Mariners’ 2-17 slide late in the year.

Seattle has five or six spots up for grabs, despite the trade that sent George Sherrill and Kam Mickolio to Baltimore. With almost enough relievers in camp to fill a 25-man roster from top to bottom, it's going to be a fierce competition. Here are the 2008 candidates as of February 20, 2008:

(Quick Termanology: LOOGY = left-handed specialist. For a good read on all the different bullpen roles, check out this post by Patrick on his old blog.)

Sean Green, RHP – A rough Spring Training landed Green in AAA Tacoma to start the 2007 season, but he still ended up making the third most big league appearances of the pitching staff. A very good sinkerball and unorthodox delivery had him cruising to a 2.44 ERA on August 3rd, but he struggled for the remainder of the season. You call it a tired arm, the result of Green’s first full major league season; Hargrove and McLaren’s mismanagement of the bullpen; or you could argue that the entire team was struggling down the stretch. I choose to blame management, but the bottom line is that Sean Green had a very nice year overall and you can expect him back next season. Some have speculated that Green could be moved into the setup role for 2008, but I would recommend a power arm in that slot. A pitcher that relies on groundballs and defense isn’t the type of guy you want with the game on the line. Give me someone that can strike someone out with the tying run on third base.

Eric O’Flaherty, LHP – Another guy that started the year in AAA, O’Flaherty showed he belonged in the big leagues last season by pitching 4.2 scoreless innings in relief against the New York Yankees on May 12th. O’Flaherty had an overall solid season in his first full year, posting a 4.47 ERA in 56 games. He’ll be competing for a role as a middle reliever or left-handed specialist this Spring, but appears to have the inside track as the team’s LOOGY. It would certainly benefit him, as his ERA against left-handers (1.38) was over six full points lower than against right-handers (7.52), not to mention lefties batted .183 off of him while right-handers hit .277.

Mark Lowe, RHP – We all remember Mark Lowe as the guy that made his major league debut on July 7, 2006, striking out the side on his way to a club record 17.2 consecutive scoreless innings to start a career. The streak was ended after he started having discomfort in his elbow, an injury that caused him to miss the tail end of August and all of September. Lowe continued to deal with injuries and pitched just 2.2 innings in the big leagues last season. When healthy he throws a high nineties fastball to go along with a nice slider and circle change. Lowe appears to be 100% healthy this Spring, and could find himself in a setup role should he rediscover his former dominance.

Brandon Morrow, RHP – No one expected Brandon Morrow to make any noise last Spring Training, but his pitching was so lights out that he forced Seattle management to make a tough decision. He made the team as a long-to-middle reliever and stayed with the big-club all season long, eventually pitching later in games. Many believe, myself included, that Brandon Morrow would be better served starting in AAA, rather than falling back into a bullpen mindset. That said, Morrow has the tools to become a dominate setup man this season, especially if his control problems are somewhat behind him (as his Winter League stats indicated). Manager John McLaren has already stated that Morrow will be pitching in the 7th and 8th innings. There has been some talk, however, that should the rest of the bullpen prove healthy and pitch effectively, Morrow could end up in AAA after all.

Chris Reitsma, RHP – After an awful season of pitching through injuries (career worst in several categories, including a 7.61 ERA and 1.94 WHIP), Chris Reitsma is completely healthy and determined to get back to his groundball inducing ways that made him a successful reliever between 2003-2005. Returning on a non-roster invitation, Reitsma will have to impress early and often to compete. The 30-year-old’s seven years of big league experience can only help him make the team, but I have trouble believing his experience alone could bump a more talented pitcher off the roster.

Arthur Rhodes, LHP – Swiftly approaching 40 and without back-to-back successful seasons since his last stint in Seattle, Arthur Rhodes is giving it one more shot after missing all of the 2007 season due to full-on Tommy John surgery. Should he be able to put some decent heat on his fastball and control his formerly wicked breaking pitches and changeup, Rhodes could land as the team’s left-handed specialist. Rhodes shouldn’t be ready for Opening Day, however, so his chances are contingent on other players’ inabilities or injury.

Ryan Rowland-Smith, LHP – The first ever MLB player with a hyphenated last name didn’t get much of a look in Spring Training last season, but a strong stint in AAA Tacoma had him up to Seattle for 26 games in 2007. Pitching in mid-to-long relief, RRS kept his ERA under four, showing off a very nice pickoff move and good control. He will likely be competing for a spot in middle relief. He will also get a long look as the team’s possibly LOOGY, but his splits over the last few years reveal that it may not be the role for him.

Cesar Jimenez, LHP – Last we saw of Cesar Jimenez, he was getting roughed up horribly in his final three appearances of his 2006 September callup. The 23-year-old southpaw throws a high-80s fastball to go along with a curveball and excellent changeup. He looked pretty good in 2007, posting a 3.51 ERA in 25.2 innings with AAA Tacoma, followed by stellar 0.77 ERA over 23.1 innings in the Venezuelan Winter League. I believe the main factors determining Jimenez’s fate with the major league club are the aforementioned Ryan Rowland-Smith and Eric O’Flaherty. Should they both make the Opening Day bullpen; I don’t Jimenez joining them.

Jon Huber, RHP – After impressing in his brief 2006 debut, Huber had a tough 2007. His atrocious Spring Training had him starting the year in AAA, where he posted a career worst 7.56 ERA. Huber was up and down a couple times with the big club, posting a 4.76 ERA over nine appearances. Huber isn’t a dominate pitcher, but gets grounders with a slider/curveball combination and can still squeeze out a few strikeouts. He could win a middle relief role with a solid Spring, though there appears to be better pitchers in front of him.

Anderson Garcia, RHP – There isn’t much to say about Garcia that I didn’t say upon his arrival. He’s got a great fastball that has already gotten rave reviews since he arrived at the Mariners’ camp, but his secondary pitches are still not major league ready. He will have to improve dramatically to make the team, though the fact that he’s on the 40-man roster helps him. He’ll also have to stay healthy, as he has been suffering from biceps tendonitis as of late.

Brodie Downs, RHP – Downs never pursued baseball after high school. Instead he went to work full time and occasionally played in local beer leagues, where he caught the eyes of scouts in Southern California. They urged him to quit his job and start playing at Modesto Junior College, which he did, and he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners 705th overall in last years draft. Now 28, Downs is attending his first big-league camp after pitching well in his first pro half-season in which he posted a 2.51 ERA in 25.1 innings between rookie ball, AA and AAA. He has two pitches deemed major league ready, including a “heavy” sinking fastball and slider. Pair that with the stellar work ethic he processes and you have all the makings of Seattle’s next great success story. The organization knows he is already in his prime years, so they will give him every opportunity to make the big club out of Spring Training.

Roy Corcoran (RHP), Philip Barzilla (LHP) – I haven’t been able to dig up too much on these two non-roster invitees. Both have had a fair amount of success during long minor league careers. I would assume that both players will be competing for middle relief roles, as Barzilla’s minor league splits do not indicate he’d be a good fit as the teams LOOGY. If I had to guess, I’d say Corcoran has a better shot at making the team.

Horacio Ramirez (LHP), R.A. Dickey (RHP), Cha Seung Baek (RHP) – These three, in my opinion, are the top three candidates for the long relief role. Could they be outdone this Spring? Of course, but I don’t believe their performances will determine their fate as much as some other players. Seattle has good reason to keep the entire trio on the 25-man roster, let alone just one of them. R.A. Dickey was a rule-5 draft choice this winter, so if he doesn’t make the cut he’ll be heading back to Minnesota along with some cash. Cha Seung Baek is out of minor league options, and will have to clear waivers should he fail to land a major league role. Horacio Ramirez will be making $2.75M this season, a steep salary to tuck away in the minor leagues.

That said, I believe Ramirez will be sent to AAA unless he proves to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the long relief candidates. I also don’t see Dickey making the team as a reliever, as catcher Kenji Johjima has never seen a knuckleball until now and has issues blocking the plate anyway. It doesn’t seem practical to bring in backup catcher Jaime Burke every time Dickey is called upon mid-game. Baek seems like a good fit. He’s shown flashes of brilliance and is entering his ninth season with the Seattle Mariners organization. This could finally be the year he gets a regular role with the big-club.

While guys like Huber, Garcia, Downs, Corcoran and Barzilla appear to be longshots at best, there are other pitchers in camp whose chances seem even slimmer. Ryan Feierabend, Sean White, Robert Rohrbaugh and Jake Woods may be ready for consistent big league action, but the long relief role will likely be filled by one of the players listed above whose situation is a little more complicated. Joe Woerman and Stephen Kahn lack AAA experience, so in order to make the club they would have to outdo over a dozen pitchers this Spring. Phillipe Aumont will not be the next Brandon Morrow. Unlike Morrow, Aumont didn’t pitch in college, let alone high school. Did I miss anyone?

Last season Seattle broke camp with a seven-man bullpen, with the intentions of dropping one once the starters were ready to go deeper into ballgames. Last season we weren’t really sure what to expect out of Horacio Ramirez, Jeff Weaver, Miguel Batista or even Felix Hernandez; this year there are far fewer question marks. With the way the bench is shaping up, I wouldn’t expect Seattle to go with a seven-man bullpen. I posted my guess as to how the bullpen would shape up over at

Long Reliever: Cha Seung Baek
Runners Up: Horacio Ramirez, R.A. Dickey
Middle Relievers: Sean Green and Ryan Rowland-Smith
Runners Up: Chris Reitsma, Cesar Jimenez, Jon Huber
Left-handed Specialist: Eric O'Flaherty
Runners Up: Cesar Jimenez, Arthur Rhodes
Setup: Brandon Morrow and Mark Lowe
Runners Up: Chris Reitsma, Arthur Rhodes, Sean Green
Closer: J.J. Putz

The only thing I would change at this point would be put Arthur Rhodes ahead of Cesar Jimenez in the left-handed specialist competition.

Congrats on making through that. What would you like to see the bullpen shape up?


Anonymous said...

I think you have EO's splits against right and leftys wrong. There is no way guys hit for that good an average off EO.

Anonymous said...

You are completely right. I accidently put in the OBP instead of average. I thought those seemed high!

Thanks, it's been edited.

Anonymous said...

Looks like we'll still have a pretty good bullpwn this year. Maybe trading all those minor league pitchers wasn't the worst thing in the world...although, I would still rather have soriano than ramirez. I have a hunch reitsma is gonna make the squad, mclaren seems to love him....hopefully that would bump morrow to AAA starter at the beginning of the year

Rob T. said...

Churchill said the M's and Bedard are discussing a 5 year deal with an option for a 6th year and the deal should be done by the summer if not sooner.

Anonymous said...

It's a waste of Morrows career to make him a setup man. He should go to AAA and learn to be a starter.

johnnyb said...

I bet morrow is the 6th Starter on this team. If Washburn/Batista break down, I bet tehre just waiting to give morrow the ball for some starts. Morrow could also be Bedard replacement if he get hit by the injuryslug

Aaron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Great post. I gotta say, I agree that Morrow is better served remaining a starter. Over the length of his career, I think that is where his highest value will come. He'll be a solid 3 or 4 if he can stay on course to start games instead of finish them.