This was always going to be the most interesting part of Spring Training this year (though, admittedly, not interesting enough to force me to actually pay attention day-in and day-out). The way I had it, coming in, there were three surefire locks, and one of those locks – Charlie Furbush – came in as damaged goods and looks like he could miss weeks, if not months, of the season. Beyond that, it was a wild fracas to lock down the back-end of the bullpen.
Steve Cishek looks to be the obvious closer, what with his 2-year, $10 million deal. How married Scott Servais is to traditional closer roles is anyone’s guess, but let’s go out on a limb and say more often than not, when the Mariners are nursing a lead of 3 runs or less, Steve Cishek will be the last pitcher the Mariners use.
Joaquin Benoit was the other lock to make this team, he of the $7.5 million deal that we took off of the Padres’ hands in trade. You like traditional 8th inning guys, who can close for you in a pinch? Benoit is your man! Think of him as your Farquhar replacement, or your Wilhelmsen replacement, or your Carson Smith replacement, or you Medina replacement, or your Maurer replacement, or your …
Then, there’s the rest of the pile. Tony Zych came out of the woodwork late last season, putting in an awesome September in a handful of appearances. I always had him pegged on the higher-end of the bubble guys, mostly because unlike most of the pitchers on this team, he can actually throw a fastball … you know, FAST. One of the more confusing aspects of the new regime is how they value pitching, particularly bullpen pitching. Maybe it’s old school, outdated thinking to want to have a bunch of fireballing hurlers in your bullpen, but I’ve seen a lot of mediocre guys come and go who’ve been forced out of this league because they couldn’t throw much faster than 90 miles per hour. I guess location and movement are always a big help, but every now and again you just feel all warm and cozy when a guy can reach back and throw 98 mph.
Furbush wasn’t the only guy bit by the injury bug this spring. Evan Scribner and Ryan Cook both looked like reclamation projects that had a better than 50% chance of making the team. Instead, both will start the year on the DL.
A few of my other bubble guys ended up getting sent down to Tacoma, including Jonathan Aro (came over in the Carson Smith/Roenis Elias for Wade Miley deal), Justin De Fratus (who was waived, and then re-signed to a minor league deal, as his arm strength didn’t appear to be up to Major League snuff), and Joe Wieland among numerous others.
That opened the door for something of a longshot in Joel Peralta, who was brought in on a minor league deal with an invite to compete. In hindsight, it might be unfair to think of him as being a longshot. Indeed, he probably deserved better than a minor league deal in the first place. He has a history of being wildly successful as recently as 2014! He ended up hitting the DL last year and upon his return looked pretty mediocre. Hard to fault teams for wondering if his nerve injury would be a career killer. But, apparently he’s done enough in this Spring Training to earn himself a job with the Mariners, so he can’t be all bad.
Without Furbush, and without any younger options in the organization to make the jump, it was looking pretty grim as far as finding a left-handed option out of the bullpen was concerned. Fortunately, the Mariners had a surplus of starters in camp, a couple of which were out of options and clinging for dear life to the big leagues. Vidal Nuno was always going to make this team, but coming into Spring Training, you couldn’t be entirely sure if it would be as a starter or a reliever. Odds were always in favor of the latter, and lo it has come to pass. You like Nuno in the bullpen because he has starting experience. Especially early in the season, when you’re likely to find starters struggling to get into a groove, you might have a need for a long reliever coming in and eating up innings.
The best thing that ever happened to Mike Montgomery, of course, is that very injury to Furbush. Montgomery was always a longshot to make the rotation, and therefore a longshot to make this team. If you asked knowledgeable Mariners fans, most of them would’ve pegged Montgomery to be a possible trade chip (barring injury, of course) at the end of Spring Training. Well, it didn’t take long for Montgomery to abandon his starting ambitions for 2016. And, given that he’s out of options, it only made sense to try him out in relief, to give us another experienced arm, and another arm we can use in long relief if need be. Having Nuno and Montgomery gives us two lefties, two long relievers, and a ton of flexibility with how we mix and match at the end of games.
The seventh and final bullpen spot came way out of left field, as the Mariners traded for Nick Vincent this week, for a player to be named later. Vincent is another guy who’s out of options, but he has tons of Major League relieving experience, and by his numbers looks like a guy who’s had a lot of success. I don’t know what happened in San Diego to cause them to lose favor in this kid, but their loss would appear to be our gain in this sitch.
Like the rotation, and indeed the entire 25-man roster, the bullpen has a lot of possibilities. It could be great, it could be the worst, or it could be anywhere in between. Aside from Zych, there’s a lot of experience in these arms, and a lot of quality experience. Guys like Cishek, Benoit, Peralta, and Vincent have had a lot of success in this league. Best of all, it looks almost nothing like the bullpen we had last year, which was a collosal disappointment and one of the primary reasons why we failed to make the playoffs.
I don’t know what it’ll look like a month from now, but for the time being I’m going to go into this thing cautiously optimistic and see how that treats me.