The Bullplan

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.

Casey Crosby#
Melvin Mercedes
Justin Miller
Jose Ortega
Luke Putkonen
Evan Reed
Jose Valdez
Duane Below#
Blaine Hardy#
Jhan Marinez
Eduardo Sanchez
Luis Marte

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:

Rag ball

Kenny Rogers

Taking over

Coordinating D

Eno on Grandy

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.


  1. Jason

    February 23, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    I’m really excited about seeing Joba Chamberlain as a Tiger and think a new organization, without all his accumulated history with the Yankees, will work wonders for him.

    • Smoking Loon

      February 24, 2014 at 12:10 am

      I’m rather bullish on him myself. There seems to be a great deal of skepticism about him among Tigers fans in general.

  2. jud

    February 24, 2014 at 1:15 am

    last year this California boy went to Florida the last week in Feb and every morning and evening it was 35 degrees…I know thats ok for you Michigan guys but I wore every bit of clothing I brought with me all at once. I usually go in the early mornings to the back fields where the starters will work on stuff til about 10:00. then they either take BP on the field right next to Merchant or they go into The Stadium and take BP there..I love the out of stadium the best cause you can catch, chase and keep all the balls they crank out in BP…I usually have a bag full to take into the exibition games and give out to little kids…will be there friday and will type you all my first impressions!

    • Smoking Loon

      February 25, 2014 at 9:27 pm

      We’ll post those first impressions up top if you’ll let us. Got a camera, too?

      Despite my joke, I know Florida weather isn’t all peaches and cream in the winter months. 35 there feels like 0 here. I know this from experience.

  3. Vince in MN

    February 24, 2014 at 2:29 am

    I’d like to see Below make a return to the Tigers pen. Although being misused by Leyland in ’12 he did a pretty good job, then was disappeared for some reason last year. He should be a good candidate to replace Coke if Phil continues to pitch without any fizz (I expect). If Ausmus does a better job of handling the bullpen than Leyland (which I also expect, but maybe I am just being overly optimistic with the regime change), I think they will actually perform better than last year. We’ll see how the new faces do, but I think there is enough depth to cover any failings by whatever combination comes north at the end of ST. On the other hand, you never know with bullpens, but we should be DUE for an improved performance. And by all accounts they are all eating well-balanced meals and coming into camp in the best shape of their careers, so things are looking up.

    • Smoking Loon

      February 25, 2014 at 9:37 pm

      Below was disappeared to make room for Valverde. Sad fact, not fiction. I’d like to see him make the team as long man and lefty ace in the hole. Wouldn’t mind seeing the following bullpen, though it’s pretty abstract without ST appraisal and the wild card of inevitable sorenesses and injuries:


      Coke’s mostly there because I want three southpaws. I’d substitute Putkonen (or Crosby?) and trade AlburCokey without too much arm-twisting.

      • Vince in MN

        February 26, 2014 at 12:06 pm

        I wouldn’t mind seeing 3 lefties in the pen (assuming you are talking about 2 of them being LOOGYs). The prerequisite of course is that they can get lefty batters out.

  4. Kevin in Dallas

    February 26, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    Tigers game being broadcast on today.


    February 26, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    The first Tiger game broadcast as per the MLB Spring Training broadcast schedule is this Friday on MLBTV.

    • Kevin in Dallas

      February 27, 2014 at 8:11 am

      They radio broadcast was working in the stand alone window. It wasn’t working on the Gameday screen.

  6. Jim EggersUSMC

    February 27, 2014 at 1:20 am

    V Mart hitting .667, yeah that won’t last too long…

  7. Vince in MN

    February 28, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Iglesias. Shinsplints. Again. Did we buy damaged goods?


      February 28, 2014 at 5:39 pm

      What do we do now? We don’t have a major league ss anywhere on the team.

      • Vince in MN

        February 28, 2014 at 10:54 pm

        Trade one of our starters for 2 minor league pitchers and a backup infielder. Oh wait, we already did that.

        Hopefully it is an easy fix (all I know is shin splints can be painful; other than that not a clue as to cause or treatment) and just a coincidence, but to have this happen 1 week into ST after a 4 month layoff, you have to wonder if this may be a chronic recurring condition.

        • Jim EggersUSMC

          March 1, 2014 at 3:05 am

          Tibial stress syndrome, aka shin splints, result in small tears of fascia from the tibia, the large lower leg bone. Often caused by overwork of the leg, and sometimes can be caused by pronation or flat feet that allows the arch to collapse flattening out the foot. Treated best by rest, ice, anti-inflammatories and orthotics. I had them all through High School, and some of it can be attributed to rapid or delayed growth. I was cured of them by attending Marine Boot Camp, which is not recommended. Could it be chronic? Maybe, but modern sports medicine should be able to fix him up. I will bill all your medical insurance plans for your treatments 🙂

          • TIGERS RULE

            March 1, 2014 at 9:58 am

            You would think that this ailment would have been resolved over the off-season, since it caused Iggy a lot of problems last year.


      February 28, 2014 at 5:42 pm

      Nice to watch baseball on TV again, even though the Phillies beat us ….. just ST.