The Full Pen

We’ve taken a look at how the Tigers may, or at least how we think (and by we I mean I and the people who agree with me) they may fill out their bench. The bench is one of the few areas of ambiguity in terms of the roster. The other area is the bullpen.

Unlike with the bench, there aren’t too many assumptions to clarify. The only tenet is that the pen will most likely have 7 pitchers and I don’t think that is really up for too much debate. The only way I see that deviating, and even then it’s not very likely, is if Vance Wilson is injured and Brandon Inge serves as the super-sub and back-up catcher and Leyland carries 8 bullpen arms.

Here’s a quick stratification of the options:

Sure Things: Todd Jones and Fernando Rodney.
Not quite sure things but pretty likely: Bobby Seay and Tim Byrdak
Everyone else: Danny Bautista, Yorman Bazardo, Francisco Cruceta, Jason Grilli, Matt Mantei, Macay McBride, Zach Miner, Clay Rapada, Jordan Tata
Maybe in August: Joel Zumaya

The sure things aren’t really worth discussing, at least not now. And while the nomenclature of “sure thing” and Todd Jones may be tough to swallow, he is a lock in terms of his roster status. Byrdak and Seay would probably have to pitch very poorly or very injured this spring to not make the team. Both lefties had solid campaigns last year and Leyland likes carrying 2 southpaw options.

As for everyone else, we’ll go in alphabetical order. Looking at the circumstances, option status will likely to be the driving factor in how the last 3 members are chosen. Eddie has done an excellent job writing up an Options tutorial as well as looking at what those implications could be for the Tigers.

  • Denny Bautista- Bautista was acquired in exchange for Jose Capellan.  Bautista will be given a shot as a reliever, despite spending the bulk of his limited career starting.  He’s only thrown 16.2 innings in relief, and allowed 31 hits and 25 runs in those innings.  And if you want someone to come in and throw strikes, well Bautista walks a batter every other inning which doesn’t bode well.  He’s out of options so the Tigers will probably hold on to him until the end, but I think the 27 year old is a long shot despite some electric stuff.
  • Yorman Bazardo- Bazardo got a little time with the Tigers last year.  He spent a little time in the pen, and was a fill-in starter in September.  He relies on a sinker that moves similarly to Derek Lowe’s.  He only fanned 4.6 batters per 9 innings for Toledo last year, but that sinker kept the ball inthe park and he only allowed 8 homers in 136.2 innings.  Bazardo doesn’t turn 24 until July, but he’s out of options.  His ceiling isn’t tremendous, but he’s young and can probably pitch in the big leagues right now.  I’d say he’s most likely to be the 6th starter should someone need a day off in the rotation or for a double header.  He’d be a likely goner if the Tigers tried to pass him through waivers.  I think he makes the team.
  • Francisco Cruceta – The Tigers are very high on Cruceta.  He’s been primarily a starter in his minor league career, but pitched out of the bullpen in the Pacific Coast League last year.  He fanned more than a batter an inning over the last 2 years in the minors and the Tigers were aggressive in signing him this offseason.  Like Bautista though, control has been a challenge for Cruceta and he walked 40 in 65.2 innings last year.  He is also out of options (are you seeing a trend here?) and I think he comes North.  But if he doesn’t throw strikes the leash may be short.  Of course if he’s walking people left and right he’d probably pass through waivers at that point.
  • Jason Grilli – Very likely to make the team.  Probably not quite a lock but could almost be placed in the same category with Byrdak and Seay.  Leyland loves him, and if Grilli managed to keep his spot with his poor first half in 2007 I can’t imagine him not making the big club.
  • Matt Mantei – Very long shot to make the bullpen, but the reliever may provide some depth as he tries to come back from a couple years off due to injury.  He’s already on a minor league contract so there won’t be issues of claims being made, and he’s already said he’d only pitch for the Tigers.  On a team that is short on veteran minor league free agent depth, he could prove valuable at some point this season.   But I hope that the need doesn’t arise in March.
  • Macay McBride – One of the few members of the pen with options left.  McBride never found consistency for the Tigers last year and he finished the season in Toledo.  He’s likely to begin 2008 there as well as he provides some insurance in case Byrdak/Seay falter.
  • Zach Miner – Miner deserves to be on the big club, but won’t be.  He’ll get squeezed out because he has options left.  He’s also likely to get some time in Detroit as injuries necessitate.
  • Clay Rapada – Rapada is another lefty.  He was acquired for Craig Monroe and got off to a rocky start by allowing 2 homers and 2 walks in only 2 1/3 innings for Detroit last year.  Rapada has 2 options left and will start the year in the Toledo pen.
  • Jordan Tata – Tata knows what he’s up against.  The rotation is full, the bullpen is full, and Tata has an option left.  He can probably use more refinement in Toledo but will try to be ready if he gets the call.

My best guess on how the bullpen will be rounded out is with Yorman Bazardo, Francisco Cruceta, and Jason Grilli. While talent should normally trump anything else, the roster concerns are legitimate. If there were cases where a clearly superior player was left in the minors for a player out of options that would be one thing. But the talent differences aren’t so vast so it makes the most sense to maintain as much depth as possible.

20 thoughts on “The Full Pen”

  1. That isn’t a bad pen at all. Grilli was good in the latter part of last year, Bazardo seems solid, and the Tigers seemed pretty amped up about Cruceta. If any of those guys don’t work out, up comes Miner. No, none of these guys are really big-name types, but I bet they’ll get the job done just fine.

    The real question is – will Joel come back, and how will he be throwing? He’s young, so I think his chances for recovery are better than if he were Rodney’s age, say. Still, that’ll be really interesting.

  2. Barring a major injury or something really unusual happening, Spring Training should be really dull. It basically boils down to
    Raburn vs Santiago and Bautista vs Grilli.


    This is not necessarily a bad thing!

  3. Spring training should be dull, barring injury. Not too many spots up for grabs, but I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. A little pressure in Spring games that don’t mean anything can be great. People are forced to perform at their best, and the coaches can see who performs well under pressure, and who doesn’t.

  4. I’m not sure all pressure is created equal. I wouldn’t assume the pressure to perform in spring training in order to get a job on a team is the same type of pressure you face when there are guys on second and third with two outs and your team is down by one.

    As for spring training being dull because there are few decisions to be made: count me as one who thinks that’s a very good thing. I’d bet a lot of terrible, terrible roster decisions have been based on a guy having a good or bad spring. You’re better off having a pretty good idea going in and then letting spring performance only serve as a tie-breaker.

  5. One thing about Grilli last year, is that he was very good when we needed him to be. He did an excellent job keeping us in a few games where the starter had to leave early, and was solid on many other important occasions. His bad games were almost always when we were already behind and he would just get crushed putting the game a bit far out of reach.

    Overall he was very good when we needed him to be, and he probably deserves a spot unless Bautista is awesome in the spring.

  6. This is why I love this site. I didn’t realize Miner had options left. I think at the end of the day, Miner will end up on the team when it matters. I’m still not that comfortable with this bullpen. It had it’s problems for most of last year (I think it’s the reason we ended up watching other teams play in the playoffs instead of the Tigers) and I don’t think they did enough to address the problems, in fact, you could make the argument that it’s worse with the loss of Zumaya. I hope Crucerta and/or Bautista can prove me wrong, but we are pinning a lot of hopes on a few very unproven guys at the MLB level.

    No matter how good or offense is, and it will be special, you know we are going to need that bullpen to slam the door shut. I just don’t have that feeling with this group. I still think they need to pick up another arm for the pen in the chance Zumaya doesn’t make it back this season. If he does, more the merrier.

  7. This all sounds about right. Which means another year of watching Grilli be a human accelerant while Miner languishes in Toledo. Now that Big Red is gone…


  8. Based on performance, Miner certainly deserves to be with the big club. Having an option remaining definitely hurts him, as most of you seem to agree. Don’t forget that he’s also proven he can step in and start if necessary. Remember the game he started at Fenway last year (5.1 IP, 6H, 1 ER) and the adequate job he did in ’06 filling in for Maroth. I think if Cruceta doesn’t impress in Spring Training, Miner is the next in line. I think the Miner-for-Farnsworth deal is one of the better ones that Dave Dombrowski has made in his Detroit tenure.

    I like Bazardo pretty much as well. The Derek Lowe comparison fits, I’d say. Of course it is against the rules of sports journalism to compare a person of color to a white guy, but I digress. He should do fine out of the ‘pen. Grilli is a favorite whipping boy for many fans, but he’s better than he gets credit for. Kind of weird how he crapped the bed at home, but was great on the road. Check out his splits:;year=2007

    As an added note, I’d like to tell Jose Canseco to shut up already.

  9. My worry about this bullpen is whether it can consistently throws strikes. The talent is there, but when Grilli, Rodney, Miner, or Jones are bad, they are awful, and it’s usually because they aren’t throwing strikes.

    I have a funny feeling DD swings a trade during the spring to continue to try and address the bullpen, most likely someone with ML experience. I’m not saying anything major, but I suspect we’ll add another arm to this conversation before April.

  10. I think the bullpen will benefit from a healthy Kenny Rogers as well as the D-Train. Too many times last year the bullpen had to pitch part of the 6th, then 7-8-9. It was too much work. For being the last guy in the pen Grilli is not awful, but he is not much more than that.

  11. The think the options are an important part of this discussion.

    It’s a catch-22 situation really, the pitchers that are out of options aren’t proven enough to be locks, but on the other hand are far too interesting to sneak through waivers, for example:

    Bautista – electric stuff
    Cruceta – Strikes out a load of people
    Bazardo – lots of groundballs

    I can’t think of many clubs that would pass them up if they were DFAed now.

    Putting my cards on the table i say Bazardo makes it unless he bombs badly in ST.
    Cruceta and Bautista fight it out in ST, Tigers take the one that wins and if he bombs during the major league season, he gets dumped and miner gets the call.

  12. Wait a second, Mark in Chicago. Let’s talk about the stats regarding Grilli.

    IP: 79.2
    H: 81
    BB: 32
    SO: 62

    He’s walking two guys every three innings. For a relief pitcher, that isn’t bad. But he has more than a hit an inning. The problem isn’t that he isn’t “throwing strikes,” but that he isn’t throwing quality strikes. Now, I know you’re remembering back to the playoffs in 2006, where he walked the bases loaded on 12 pitches, but this year’s statistics don’t show that at all.

    I think this whole “throwing strikes” business is a vast oversimplification of what good pitching is about. You have to throw good strikes, or you’re going to get hit hard, like Grilli does.

  13. This is currently not a very good pen. Start with the “sure things,” neither of which is too sure. Jones will just plain run out of gas one of these days. Hopefully not this year. He will undoubtedly have some bad stretches along with the good. Rodney has done little aside from 2006. If he can’t stay healthy he doesn’t help much. There is no point even thinking about Zumaya. Byrdak finally had a good year at 33; will he have another one? Anybody’s guess. Seay has been consistently very good for a few years now but has been used in a very limited role. Cruceta and Bautista are reclamation projects, as is Mantei. Bazardo looked quite good but with his sinker looks more like a starter to me. Plus he is in essence a rookie. Miner and Grilli both have some good stuff and both have been very inconsistent throughout their careers.

    This COULD be a good pen. If Jones slows down and Rodney, as usual, gets hurt, it could be awful. I’d like to see them add another arm. White Sox DFA’d David Aardsma which surprised me. He can bring it, although again he has been inconsistent. I guess something like 20 teams showed up to see Keith Foulke throw yesterday.

    Most good bullpens are assembled out of spare parts, but it takes a lot of tinkering to get it right. The Tigers need to do it quickly.

  14. I don’t understand why the spare parts can’t come out of our own system. I also don’t understand what makes you think this isn’t a decent pen. No, it isn’t the Red Sox pen, but it doesn’t need to be.

    Who had the best pen in the AL Central last year? Cleveland, I’d say. How many of those guys’ names did you know last January? You maybe knew Borowski. You didn’t know the Rafaels or anyone else, though, and certainly weren’t expecting them to deliver like they did.

    Of course Todd Jones will have a rough stretch this year; he blew six saves last year. But you know who else did? Bobby Jenks and K-Rod. Rivera blew four. Street blew five.

    As far as Rodney not being very good, how was he after he returned from the DL last year? I think he went about three weeks before allowing a run.

    Also, who cares if Bazardo’s sinker looks more like a starter? That’s “conventional baseball wisdom,” which isn’t very wise. Just because a guy doesn’t go out there and rack up K’s doesn’t mean he can’t have success in the pen. And I don’t think that putting him in the pen for a year would be worse for him as a developing MLB starter than spending another year at AAA.

    Byrdak improved leaps and bounds last year not because he got lucky, but because he added a pitch. Who knows if he’ll repeat his great numbers, but with the cause of the success being another pitch rather than dumb luck, his chances look better.

    Seay is good. You’re right – he’s in a limited role right now. But that doesn’t mean that he couldn’t be given a bigger one. Righties or lefties don’t hit him very well.

    Grilli and Miner both have stuff. Grilli is a whipping boy here, but he was good down the stretch and threw 80 innings for this club (that’s fifth most on the team, including starters).

    And Miner has good stuff, keeps the ball on the ground, and had ERA of 3.01 last year over 50 innings.

    What else do you want? You want a big-name signing that we can throw the ridiculous sums that marginal relievers are asking for? I don’t see why that is at all superior to staying with what we have, including the two guys that will be new to the pen this year, Cruceta and Bazardo. Having a good pen at a reasonable cost is all about looking for arms where the other guys aren’t. Otherwise you just look foolish … like the White Sox.

  15. Bullpens are a volatile thing. Look at the Tigers ‘pen in 2006 and then look at it in 2007. There’s no guarantee that Cleveland or even Boston will be able to duplicate their successes from ’07 this coming season. (I do suspect Papelbon will be just fine, though). For that reason it’s foolish to throw oodles of cash for relievers a la Baltimore or Chicago. The way the Tigers are going about putting together the bullpen is smart in my opinion. By the way, Grilli’s ERA on the road was 1.91 on the road vs. 7.96 at home. You guys should stop booing him at CoPa 🙂

  16. Good point, Eric, and you’re probably right, I am selectively remembering the times when Grilli couldn’t find the strike zone. To me, it seemed as though when he lost command, he had a real tough time getting it back. Therefore, he may go 3-4 appearances and be OK, but he’ll go out there one day and walk 3 batters while getting 4 outs. So it just seems the consistency isn’t there. To be fair, i should probably put Rodney in that group as well.

    Dave T. also makes a good point that better starting pitching should help tremendously and should leave the pen less exposed.

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