Tuesday, March 11, 2008

5-man Bench, 6-man Bullpen?

Throughout Spring Training I have been under the assumption that the 2008 Seattle Mariners would break camp with a four-man bench and a seven-man bullpen, as they did last year, but lately there have been some ideas floating around that would suggest a five-man bench, six-man bullpen.

The number of bench players Seattle carries will be determined by how durable the bullpen is.

"We're going to see, No. 1, the health of everybody, who shakes down in the bullpen, how many innings are out there," McLaren was quoted as saying here. "Last year, we were faced with the dilemma of a lot of one inning type pitchers. That kind of plays into it a little bit. Depending on how the bullpen shakes down, if we've got innings out there, do we need 12 on our staff? Do we need the extra guy in the bullpen? It's something we're very open-minded about. We'll just see how everybody fits in the bullpen also. One might have a bearing on the other and vice versa."

Last season the Seattle Mariners opened with a bullpen that consisted of seven guys: J.J. Putz, Brandon Morrow, Julio Mateo, Chris Reitsma, Arthur Rhodes, George Sherrill and Sean White. Of those seven, at least five of them would be considered "one inning type pitchers."

This year, Seattle could have a little more room to work with, though it's difficult to tell at this point since the competition for bullpen spots is going to go right down to the wire. Last year Brandon Morrow was certainly one of the "one-inning type pitchers" McLaren was referring to, as he only logged more than a single inning in 30% of his appearances. This year, McLaren has called him a "two inning guy." Sean Green wasn't on the Mariners' Opening Day roster last season, but he did make it into 64 ballgames, pitching over an inning in 37.5% of his games, a number that would have been much higher had he avoided a rough stretch that lasted most of August.

The rehabilitation projects are the ones that could really hurt the 2008 bullpen in terms of innings. Mark Lowe, Chris Reitsma, Arthur Rhodes and Jon Huber are all working their way back from serious injury, and would rarely face more than a handful of hitters. Guys like Cesar Jimenez and Ryan Rowland-Smith would add innings, on the other hand.

The decision to go with a six-man bullpen or a seven-man bullpen could be determined by who is named the team's long reliever. While many players are competing for this spot, the competition focuses around three guys: Horacio Ramirez, R.A. Dickey and Cha Seung Baek.

Dickey is the most durable of the trio, as his hard knuckleball takes little toll on his arm and he could log multiple innings on back-to-back days if need be. "I like the 7-man bullpen, too," a scout told Jason A. Churchill in Prospect Insider's latest post, "but Dickey is a good reason to consider going away from it."

Ramirez is on the other end of the spectrum. He's been injury prone throughout his career, so his inclusion in the bullpen would likely require an extra arm.

Should Seattle put together a bullpen capable of allowing an extra position player on the 25-man roster, who makes it?

Willie Bloomquist and Jaime Burke are locks. Many writers around the blogosphere are calling for (and expecting) Miguel Cairo to be cut, but I still don't see it happening. While I agree that Cairo has no place on this team, every indication from countless Spring Training articles I've read show that Cairo is as much of a lock as Bloomquist and Burke, or at least close, especially if the bench is expanded to five.

Right now it's impossible to exclude Mike Morse from the bench, so we'll assume he's on. There is still time in Spring Training for things to change, but for now we'll pencil him in, leaving one spot up for grabs.

Of the four bench players already included, three of them play first base, two of them play second base, three of them play third base, three of them play shortstop, three of them play left field, one of them plays center field, two of them play right field, none of them hit for power and they are all right-handed hitters. Based on their abilities, Seattle could use a little offensive pop and center field depth, leaving Greg Norton, Jeremy Reed and Charlton Jimerson as the top candidates to fill the void, in my opinion.

Norton would be on the team strictly as a pinch hitter since Bloomquist, Cairo and Morse are probably just as good if not better in the field at all of Norton's positions. He is a switch-hitter with some good pop from the left side and a knack for getting pinch hits. Adding him to the 40-man roster shouldn't be a problem, since there are three fringe players who are out of minor league options and one rule-5 pick, meaning someone will undoubtedly make room for him.

While having a switch hitter is nice, I don't personally like having a designated pinch hitter on the roster. Norton is considered one of the better pinch hitters in baseball with 66 pinch hits in 306 at bats throughout his career (.243 batting average), but how is that any better than keeping your .267 hitter in the game? At least the starter loose and has seen live pitching that day, rather than coming off the bench cold. Norton has some power, which is also attractive, but is a shot at one or two pinch hit homers worth giving him a roster spot? If those home runs equal one or two extra wins, probably, but unfortunately pinch hit opportunities don't always come with the game on the line. He would make sense in some matchups, but I would rather go with another option.

Charlton Jimerson and Jeremy Reed are the other two candidates for this final spot. They both play good defense at all three outfield positions and would add some speed to the bench. Jimerson would add some great raw power, but has a tendency to strikeout. Jeremy Reed is left-handed, which may be a mark against him with an all-lefty starting outfield, even on a five-man bench. So far Reed has outperformed Jimerson this spring, but neither has done anything to fall out of the race. If it comes down to these two, Jimerson may have a leg up since he is out of minor league options and Reed isn't.

I am not considering Wlad Balentien for a bench spot, since he really needs the playing time and he'd likely be reduced to pinch hitting duties on a bigger bench.

All that said, I don't think that a five-man bench is necessary. Bloomquist, Burke, Cairo and Morse can easily handle all eight positions, so adding anyone else would just make it harder for everyone to find playing time. I am a little concerned about having Bloomquist as the only backup for center fielder Ichiro Suzuki. Brad Wilkerson can play some center field, supposedly, but the gaps would widen significantly if Seattle ever played an outfield consisting of Raul Ibanez, Wilkerson and Morse. The idea of adding Jimerson or Reed is intriguing for this reason, and this reason alone.

How do you all vote? 5-man bench/6-man bullpen, or 4-man bench/7-man bullpen?


Scott said...

4 man bench: Vidro (PH), Willie/Morse (util), Jimerson or Reed (OF) (This situation has Clement being the everyday DH and playing catcher when Kenji rests) - then when Clement needs to rest, Vidro starts at DH.



That's my ideal situation.

Jon Shields said...

^That is pretty close to my ideal as well, I like the players you mentioned.

Clement cannot be both the everyday DH and the backup catcher though. Kenji is the number 1 candidate in the M's lineup to get lifted for a pinch runner late in the game. If that happens, you can't slide Clement behind the plate from DH without putting your pitcher into the lineup. Same thing if Kenji gets hurt. You need to sacrifice either Jimerson or Reed for Burke. I don't see much point in having both Reed and Jimerson anyway.. they'd be killing each other for playing time.

Scott said...

That's a good point Jon, I forgot about that weird DH switch rule. And I was saying Jimerson OR Reed as the 4th OF this year.

Rob T. said...

You know my vote. 5 man bench and 6man bullpen.

Putz, Green, Morrow, O'Flaherty, RRS, Dickey (Lowe will start the year in AAA).

Bloomquist, Cairo, Norton, Morse, Burke. I would cut Cairo but it probably won't happen.

jp17 said...

If I had to add on to a bench of Bloomquist, Cairo, Burke, and Morse I would have to go with Reed.

Norton would give better power, but I'd use Reed as much as possible to replace Ibanez/Wilkerson in later innings.

He'd be the second best defensive outfielder on the team, and the second best runner off the bench.

Jimerson just adds another RH bat and alot of K's.

Clement would be an interesting addition only if you could get him 400+ at-bats.

Jon Shields said...

^ Jimerson would add more speed off the bench than Reed would, although either would be a better pinch runner than Cairo, Burke or Morse.

The best thing, to me, would be to put Reed in AAA and have Jimerson on the big league team. If Jimerson can't cut it, release him and promote Reed. Jimerson can't be sent to AAA, though he may clear waivers.

jp17 said...

I wouldn't have a guy on the bench just because he is the second best basestealer on the bench.

To me it's Reed's handedness/experience vs. Jimerson's power. Both are quick enough, and play about the same on defense. I wouldn't be looking to either for hits, only defense and pinch running.

With an all RH bench, Reed gets the nod in my book.

Jon Shields said...

Well if you're not looking at them to hit, what does it matter if Reed is a lefty or not? Especially with an all lefty outfield...

Anyone know how good Jimerson's arm is?

jp17 said...

Because there are times when an opposing manager could use the lack of a LH bat on the bench against us.

Jimerson may have more power, but Reed is a better overall hitter.

BTW, KOMO 1000 just reported that HoRam has just been released.

Rob T. said...

Horatio Ramirez has been released. Today was the last day to release him where they only had to pay him a certain amount of his salary.