This time last year, the bullpen was seen as a team plus, and the only big question – big to some, anyway – was who or how to replace the involuntarily departed Jose Valverde at closer. That question was settled much later in the year by Joaquin Benoit, but by then it was clear that the bullpen had gone off the rails, and the closer issue was more of an excuse or distraction than a reason. We come into 2014 with an opposite situation: closer settled and nothing else, bullpen seen as weakness and concern. Kinda funny.
Out with Benoit, Jose Veras, and Darin Downs, in with Joe Nathan, Ian Krol, and Joba Chamberlain. One might wonder why it wasn’t in with Joe Nathan and leave it at that. Was money a big factor? Although both Benoit and Veras were proven and solid, there’s a parallel with the Prince Fielder departure. We remember the 2013 postseason and are encouraged to turn the page. If you remember the 2013 ALCS, you will recall two particular heartbreaks that encourage us not to miss Benoit and Veras. Also, the absence of Benoit will, over the course of a season, save 7 hours of waiting for him to deliver pitches. Enjoy the suspense, San Diego.
Instead of a rock-solid back end, we have Joe White and the Seven Dwarfs. OK, Six Dwarfs, and yes I know it should be “Dwarves.” Among the dwarfs, though, there is a great deal of talent, talent that (as always) may or may not succeed. The rise and fall of bullpens is a volatile and seemingly random business. For most bullpens most years, it’s not a matter of big names turning in big name performances, but one of just enough guys finding their groove to start a movement. Could happen here.
The inside track on 5 spots is held by Bruce Rondon, Chamberlain, Krol, Al Alburquerque, and Phil Coke. Rondon issue: Staying healthy long enough to show anything. We don’t need another Joel Zumaya, Eternal Prospect. Alburquerque issue: His fastball. No one can or ever will hit his slider. Coke issue: Rediscovering the force of nature he was in the 2012 postseason. Chamberlain and Krol just have to show up.
After that, it’s a lot of guys competing for anywhere from 1 to 3 spots. Aside from opining that I was impressed with Jose Ortega last season, I’ll just list the names and leave the analysis and opinion to you. I’ll include all the guys to watch in ST, actually, though some are exceedingly unlikely to be expected to compete for a spot with the big club right now.
Don’t see Mud Hen Kenny Faulk# on the list of non-roster invitees, which doesn’t seem right. Not sure about Jeremy Bonderman’s status with the organization or that of a couple other (other than Faulk) Mud Hens.
In case you missed it:
We look forward to Lakeland dispatches from jud and other commenters bold enough to brave the harsh Florida winter and witness spring training in person. The first games are close at hand.