Shuffling The Bullpen

Dave · April 27, 2009 at 1:26 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Coming out of spring training, the plan for the bullpen was that the arms would begin to sort themselves out at the start of the year, and the team would adjust the roles from there. We’re three weeks into the season, and that appears to be happening. Here’s the current structure:

Morrow has established himself as the closer, despite initial struggles. He’s the best arm in the pen, and in 2009, that means he pitches the 9th inning.

Aardsma has taken over the 8th inning setup/backup closer role. He’s Wak’s #2 guy in the pen right now.

Shawn Kelley has done nothing but impress, and has moved into the high leverage 7th inning role.

Roy Corcoran and Mark Lowe essentially have the same role – middle guy who goes a few innings, depending on which one didn’t pitch the day before. Corcoran started out ahead of Lowe, but has pitched his way into lower leverage situations.

Sean White is the long reliever/low leverage mopup guy until RRS gets healthy, and then will hand that role back to Jakubauskas.

Miguel Batista is the fill-in – he backs up everyone else (except Morrow), and fills whatever role can’t be filled by the normal pitcher for whatever reason.

However, this structure isn’t going to last that much longer. Cesar Jimenez is rehabbing in Tacoma, and the team can only keep him down there for a few more weeks before they have to make a decision on him. Once his rehab assignment expires, they’ll have to put him on the roster or designate him for assignment. He’d almost certainly be claimed on waivers, so he’s got a decent shot at a roster spot. In addition, Tyler Johnson isn’t that far behind him, and barring a setback, we should plan on Johnson and Jimenez both claiming bullpen spots in the next couple of weeks. And then there’s RR-S, who may or may not be back shortly.

How’s this all going to shake out?

White is probably the first guy to go, with one of Jakubauskas/Batista/RR-S taking his job, depending on which of the three lefties comes back first. Corcoran is probably number two on the chopping block. If all three come back and no one else gets hurt in the mean time, the team would have to make a decision on Batista – is he worth keeping around in lieu of a guy like Mark Lowe? Almost certainly not. However, Lowe has options and Batista would have to be DFA’d, so if their performance levels are similar, that could be a tie-breaker.

All of this ignores both Chad Cordero and Josh Fields, both of whom could also factor in at some point this summer.

It’s a crowded bullpen, and the depth gives the team lots of options. It also will force them to make some decisions fairly soon, however.

More interestingly, to me, will be how the 8th inning will shake out. Aardsma has gotten good results through unsustainable processes (walks + flyballs do not equal dominance), so he’s either going to have to throw more strikes or lose his job to Kelley. Personally, I prefer Kelley to Aardsma right now, and I wouldn’t have a problem swapping those two out, but I imagine Wak wants to take it easy on the rookie.

It will be interesting to see how all this sorts out. The bullpen has been a huge part of the team’s 12-7 start, and while they aren’t the highest regarded group out there, there’s enough talent and depth for them to continue to post above average performances. We probably won’t lead the league in bullpen ERA, but I’ve seen enough to think that it won’t be the disaster many were expecting.


23 Responses to “Shuffling The Bullpen”

  1. JH on April 27th, 2009 1:41 pm

    I was watching Mark Lowe pitch the other day, and despite his spotty command that particular outing, it reminded me about the discussion of converting him back to a starter during his breakout season in 2006. He has the stuff, he might not have the command, and the durability will always be a question mark, but on a team with virtually no pitching prospects, I hope the powers that be are at least considering the possibility.

  2. Dave on April 27th, 2009 1:45 pm

    I’d imagine any chance he had of going back to the rotation went away when he got the diabetes diagnosis.

  3. JH on April 27th, 2009 1:47 pm

    Oh that’s right. Man, what a bummer. His stuff looks absolutely electric right now.

  4. Dave on April 27th, 2009 1:53 pm

    Yea, but it’d be nice to see him throw a few more change-ups. As a fastball/slider guy, he’ll be a good ROOGY. He needs that change-up to fend off LHBs if he’s going to turn into a relief ace.

  5. rlb on April 27th, 2009 2:22 pm

    Without research, it appears White has had good results. Do you see any chance he could move up the list? I like this problem. We have (had until yesterday) great performance from the pen, agreed it’s unsustainable with this crew. With the idea of superior arms coming, it’s great to think about.

    Seems like the innings eaten by most starters disquised the weakness in middle relief.

  6. jzalman on April 27th, 2009 2:27 pm

    Dave, what about Aumont and the Z comment that he’d be on a fast track to the majors as a reliever? Once he emphasized he meant a REALLY fast track, I took that to mean surely before rosters expand. I guess that adds to the “why even convert him?” discussion. We’ve got so many useful arms as it is? Any new word/speculation on this?

  7. Dave on April 27th, 2009 2:40 pm

    Calling up Aumont this year would use up a 40 man roster spot that may very well be at a premium. Considering the depth ahead of him, I wouldn’t bet on seeing him in Seattle this year.

  8. robbbbbb on April 27th, 2009 2:48 pm

    Do any of these guys have enough value for trade material? The M’s could probably use a little upgrade on the bench. Would one of these players net the M’s a lefty bench bat? Or an improved backup middle infielder?

    A trade always helps relieve roster pressure, but I don’t know if any of these guys has that much value.

  9. MarinerDan on April 27th, 2009 2:48 pm

    Any word on whether Morrow’s recent shoulder stiffness is anything to worry about?

  10. Dave on April 27th, 2009 2:51 pm

    The only ones with any real trade value are the ones you’d want to keep – Morrow, and to a lesser extent, Lowe and Kelley.

  11. rlb on April 27th, 2009 3:13 pm

    Another Aumont question: any stats from anyone on how his different pitches are doing? I wonder how much of his move to the bullpen was the Randy Johnson effect: a tall guy taking time to control his limbs.

    Does anyone think this allows him to concentrate on controlling one pitch, get to the majors, then work on other pitches and become a starter? Randy was about 27 before he could control his arms.

  12. lailaihei on April 27th, 2009 3:27 pm

    Here’s my guess at what the final bullpen would be like if we get to play October baseball.

    swing: Jakubauskas
    long: Kelley
    long: Lowe
    left: Johnson
    7th: Fields
    8th: Cordero
    9th: Morrow

    The 7th-9th guys are pretty much interchangable and Lowe or Kelley might end up at the 7th or 8th spot if Cordero or Fields don’t shake out this year. Batista, Jimenez, or Olsen could end up as the swing man when Jakubauskas takes back a rotation spot in the case that we dump Bedard and/or Washburn.

  13. Breadbaker on April 27th, 2009 3:35 pm

    I for one would not be adverse to a serial epidemic of “shoulder stiffness” giving everyone a 15-or-so day vacation over the course of the season. It would actually help to avoid the Sean Green overworked syndrome we had last year.

    The other big question for me is whether Wak has enjoyed as much as I have watching righthanders have to work to get lefties out, knowing there was no LOOGY to save them, and even when Jimenez and Johnson are back and healthy, I’d prefer him to tell his pitchers to expect to stay in for an inning at a time, regardless of the handedness of the next hitter, so long as they’re pitching effectively. No, that’s not a hard and fast rule; you’ll bring in a lefty to pitch to Ortiz with the game on the line in the eighth. But it should be the expectation. And the bonus that the games aren’t bogged down in endless mid-inning pitching changes to minimal advantage, has been wonderful.

  14. Dave on April 27th, 2009 3:37 pm

    Cordero, at his best, has never been as good as Kelley is now. Thinking that he’s going to get the 8th inning role while Kelley pitches long relief is… strange.

    Seriously, you’re massively underrating the guys already here or massively overrating the guys rehabbing/on the farm.

  15. MarinerDan on April 27th, 2009 3:46 pm


    What do you see as Fields’ upside this year? He has obviously been sharp recently at AA, but I wonder if his control would still be a problem at the major league level. Can you realistically see him making a contribution at the big league level this year?

  16. Dave on April 27th, 2009 3:48 pm

    He’s going to be pretty similar to Lowe, just his breaking ball is a real weapon against LH hitters. The expected performance should be similar: 3.0 to 4.0 BB/9, 8.0 to 9.0 K/9, .7 to .8 HR/9.

    Not a relief ace, but a pretty decent middle guy. And, obviously, some upside beyond that if he figures out how to throw strikes.

  17. ivan on April 27th, 2009 3:59 pm

    In my subjective, nonscientific, unanalytical, and probably easily refuted opinion, White has more upside than Batista, Corcoran, or Jimenez.

    White needed one more pitch to get out of AAA, and it looks like he has added it. He’s no world beater, but with that sinker, I’d rather have him as an inning-eater than the other three.

    The hitters have adapted to Corcoran. Whenever he can’t keep the ball in on the hands or down in the zone, they’re killing him.

    My take on Jimenez is that his breaking ball is too flat, and if he throws it anywhere in the zone, it’s going long. His shtick is getting batters to hack at it when it’s off the plate. He has little to no upside, and they might as well let him go unless Johnson isn’t ready yet.

    Batista is not even worth discussing.

  18. Breadbaker on April 27th, 2009 4:27 pm

    if he figures out how to throw strikes

    That would be a great subtitle for a book on “The Curious Trades of Bill Bavasi.” From the guys we got for Villone and Winn to the John Parrish trade.

  19. Ralph_Malph on April 27th, 2009 5:44 pm

    I’d imagine any chance he had of going back to the rotation went away when he got the diabetes diagnosis.

    This comment by Dave confused me — it reads like a response to JH’s comment about Lowe, but I thought it was Morrow who was diabetic. Lowe’s not diabetic, is he?

  20. Dave on April 27th, 2009 5:51 pm

    Both are.

  21. henryv on April 27th, 2009 9:16 pm

    My understanding is that Morrow has insulin-dependent diabetes, and Lowe has non-insulin-dependent diabetes.

    Basically, if Lowe doesn’t spike his sugar levels and keeps an eye on it, he can actually sustain for much longer than Morrow.

    However, everyone’s diabetes is different, and every day is a little different, too.

  22. henryv on April 27th, 2009 9:25 pm

    I’m totally in favor of the random-tightness DL. It should be a random disease that goes through the bullpen.

    Either that, or start looking for a trade to a team looking for a half dozen right-handed relievers.

  23. Celadus on April 28th, 2009 12:09 am

    Solution to the weakness of the bullpen or any other position:

    (A): Invite every conceivable unattached person who plays that position to spring training.

    (B): See what shakes out.

    Seems like a good strategy to me. It’s also what the Mariners did this spring training. Won’t always work, but then neither will signing every free agent you can get your hands on.

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