Thursday, March 23, 2006

Bullpen for 2006

I tried to enter links but everytime I did it gave me an error message... not sure why? EDIT: The links worked when I re-entered them at 2:30 this morning.

So in the last post, I discussed the starting rotation for the Mariners including the strength and weaknesses of each of the slots in the rotation as well as darkhorse candidates for making the rotation. Well, as of right now, there is about two weeks left in spring training, and the final rotation is looking like this: Jamie Moyer, Joel Pineiro, Jarrod Washburn, Gil Meche, Felix Hernandez. So with the rotation out the way, it is time to delve into the pitchers at the end of the game. It is time to look at the bullpen for 2006.

One of my biggest fears this offseason was having to go into another season with Matt Thornton as the left-handed specialist in the bullpen. No more do I need to worry about that, as Thornton was just recently traded to the world champions. The Chicago White Sox and the Mariners came up with a deal to trade former first-round draft picks that never quite made it with either team. Joe Borchard, 27, is the guy coming over to Seattle from Chicago. My opinion? When you get rid of a guy like Thornton, right there you save at least 10 wins; or at least give yourself a chance to. Manager Mike Hargrove has come out and said that he is prepared to go with no southpaws in the bullpen, HUGE mistake. (What is a southpaw? Well when stadiums were first being built, they were mostly built on an E-W plane so when a left-handed pitcher would face the batter, his pitching arm would be on the south side of the stadium... fun fact.)

So if Thornton was the last available option in the bullpen, then Hargrove is basically forced to go with no left-handers out of the bullpen right? Wrong. George Sherill,28, is now the leading candidate to fill the void at left-handed specialist and although he is having a rather rough spring training, in his short career he is holding left-handed hitters to a mere .198 batting average. Along with Sherill, Hargrove also has an option in Luis E. Gonzalez. Gonzalez,23, is a near lock to be on the opening day roster if only for the fact that he is a "Rule V(5) Draftee".

The rule 5 draft is a major league/minor league draft that happens each winter at the GM meetings. The way it works is this: Each of the 30 major league teams has a 40-man roster (25 in the majors and 15 in the minors), and every person NOT on that 40-man roster in the organization is eligible to be drafted in the rule 5. However, if you pick a player in the draft, that player is required to be on the major league 25-man roster the entire season after he is drafted. So, if you draft a player that has no experience above, say, single-A ball, then you are essentially wasting a roster slot to keep him on your team. If you take him off of your roster, he is returned to his former team for a nominal fee.

Now, back to the bullpen issues... So if Luis Gonzalez makes the team, that would possibly give Hargrove three lefties in the bullpen (two if you don't count Eddie Guardado, the closer). So with the left-handed pitchers out of the way, we can now look at the strength of the 2006 Mariners. With Guardado, Rafael Soriano, JJ Putz, Clint Nageotte, Julio Mateo, and possibly Jesse Foppert, the back end of the bullpen is looking very strong.

Soriano, when healthy, is one of the most dominant relief pitchers in the game. He has a high-90's fastball, a killer slider, and has a workable changeup. The key phrase however, is, WHEN HEALTHY. Soriano has always had injury problems with his shoulder and his elbow, but has now been healthy for a few months and after a year-long rehabiliatation assignment, is ready to come back to the Mariners strong.

JJ Putz has the possibility to be the next Matt Thornton in the Mariners bullpen, or the next stud reliever. He has a very good fastball, but so did Thornton... He has a very good sinker, something that Thornton did not have, but he does have problems controlling it at times, ding ding ding! Thornton anyone? I will be the first to admit that Putz has the look, the build and the stuff to be a big league closer, but I just never feel too confident in him coming in the bullpen, hopefully this season he can put it all together and strengthen an already dominant back end of the bullpen.

Clint Nageotte is as big a question mark as anybody on the major league roster for the Mariners, his slider is maybe the second-best slider in the organization (behind King Felix) but he has some control issues that have kept him from stardom in the major leagues. If new pitching coach, Rafael Chaves can help Nageotte to keep his slider and decent fastball under control, he has a chance to be something special.

Julio Mateo is one of those guys that you can pencil in for just about the same performance each year, he is not a guy that is going to come in for the pressure situations, but he is able to do just about anything else. A few wins each season, a 3.50 ERA or so, and able to pitch just about everyday, Mateo is a very valuable piece to an already stacked bullpen lot.

'Everyday Eddie' is the left-handed closer that so many Mariner fans have come to love. He does not have the greatest stuff, he only throws in the high-80's, nor does he have the best talent, but one thing he does have is heart, he believes he is the best closer in baseball, and his performance since joining the Mariners has shown that as well (54 saves, 2.74 ERA).

The bullpen for the most part is set, and I do not think Jesse Foppert will be able to crack the crew, but the darkhorses to make the bullpen are: Luis E. Gonzalez, Travis Blackley, Jesse Foppert, Scott Atchison... Not exactly compelling names, which is the main reason why the bullpen is primarily set in stone.


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