After an extended break, I finally have some time to tackle another part of our 2006 roster reshaping suggestions. So far, you’ve seen the cases for Jacque Jones, Kevin Brown, Kenji Jojima, and the Millwood vs Burnett discussion.
Today, rather than isolating a single player, we look at the bullpen. With the rotation bound to be full of questions, the relievers are a key to the Mariners success, or lack thereof, in 2006.
The main question is what to do with Eddie Guardado. The team holds an option to bring him back for $6.25 million, and if they decline that, then Guardado has the option to guarantee himself $4.25 million. If both sides decline their options, Guardado hits the free agent market. We gave you guys a thread on this subject already, and the overwhelming response was that everyone wants to see Guardado gone. I’m not nearly as worried by his late season swoon as everyone else, but given the current makeup of the Mariners roster, I also think it would be in the team’s best interest to spend the Guardado money on filling other needs.
People may not have noticed, consdering that the team was terrible, but the Mariners bullpen is actually quite good.
George Sherrill is, quietly, one of the better left-handed relief pitchers in the game. In 19 innings with the club in 2005, he struck out nearly 31 percent of the batters he faced. That’s phenomenal. The past two years, he has established himself as a consistent performer ready for an expanded role.
Rafael Soriano has an obviously electric arm. Before blowing out his elbow in 2003, he was the best reliever in the American League. His performances this season, while rehabbing, are exactly in line with how dominant he was before surgery. There should be little doubt about how well Soriano will pitch when he takes the mound in 2006. The questions are simply about how durable he will be.
J.J. Putz, while appearing prone to give up home runs at bad times, is a solid middle reliever whose ability to induce huge numbers of ground balls makes him a valuable commodity, especially in stranding runners. He lacks the secondary pitches to be an elite talent, but as a middle reliever, he’s above average.
Those three, alone, give the M’s a solid late inning relief corps. You could win the World Series with those three as your relievers in October. However, the strength of the team’s bullpen is not only the late inning guys, but the remarkable depth the organization has to choose from to fill out the pen.
Julio Mateo, while effective again last year, has been in decline for the past several seasons. He cannot hold runners on and is best suited for long relief, where his ability to pound the strikezone allows him to soak up several innings at a time. As a fourth reliever making little money, he has value, even though there is almost no chance he’ll ever be more than what he currently is.
Scott Atchison is the forgotten man, also missing most of the season rehabbing from an arm injury, though he did not require surgery. By the time he got back to Seattle, he showed the same ability to miss bats he displayed in 2004. His stuff isn’t overwhelming, but he’s eerily reminiscent to Angels setup ace Scot Shields.
Clint Nageotte, for all his command problems in Tacoma, still managed to keep runs of the board by combining the strikeouts-and-groundballs tandem that is death to hitters. While many are ready to write him off as a right-handed Matt Thornton, there’s still potential here.
That’s a six man bullpen that, at worst, is probably league average, and has significant upside. But with inexperienced players, there’s always risk. The best way to manage risk? Have options. And when it comes to the bullpen, the M’s have many, many options.
He most likely won’t be protected on the 40 man roster, and he’s mostly flown under the radar, but Sean Green was one of the most groundball-dominant pitchers in the Pacific Coast League while posting the best strikeout rate of his career. He doesn’t have the stuff to miss bats consistently at the major league level, but his sinker is extremely heavy, and that alone can carry a reliever.
Did you know Jeff Heaverlo had a 2.65 ERA after May 15th? After the all-star break, Heaverlo was the Rainiers best reliever.
The M’s also have a group of arms who have shown significant potential in the past, including Francisco Cruceta and Jesse Foppert. Cesar Jimenez is still somewhat interesting from the left side. That’s 11 arms, not including likely holdovers Jeff Harris and Matt Thornton, both of whom I would have no problem casting overboard, metaphorically speaking, of course.
A year ago, when talking about the strength of the Oakland A’s, we pointed to their bulllpen depth. They had a group of relievers knocking on the door, and when Octavio Dotel, Ricardo Rincon, and Chad Bradford faltered, they were replaced easily by Huston Street, Justin Duchscherer, and Kirk Saarloos. The A’s bullpen was a significant part of their ability to stay in the pennant race all season, despite not having big-name experienced guys finishing out ballgames.
The Mariners have a chance to follow the model the A’s, Indians, and Angels have used to such great success recently. By eschewing the need for a proven closer and paying millions for veteran grit, the M’s could enter the 2006 season with a bullpen that projects to league average at worst with significant upside and costs all of about $2 million.
Soriano and Sherrill as the late inning relief aces. Putz and Atchison in the middle innings. Nageotte, Mateo, Green, and Heaverlo fighting for the last two spots in the bullpen. That’s a relief corps I’d love to see.