Shuffling The Bullpen
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.