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.