With the Josh Willingham trade netting Henry Rodriguez, a back-of-the-bullpen power arm, coupled with another bullpen arm picked up in the rule-5 draft (Elvin Ramirez), how is the bullpen competition shaping up for the 2011 team?
Here’s how things stand right now: I’m using a standard 7-man bullpen to start (even though we started 2010 with 8 guys out there due to a quirk in the schedule that allowed us a week before needing Livan’s 5th starter services). This bullpen configuration means roughly a closer, 2 setup guys, a loogy, a longman and two right handers.
- Closer: Storen
It looks to me like, absent a FA signing, that Drew Storen is entering 2011 as the closer. There are a couple possible closers still on the FA market but each has some draw backs. Rafael Soriano is a type A free agent and I can’t quite see the Nats giving up their 2nd rounder for him. Kevin Gregg is a type B and could still be an option. He had good numbers for Toronto last year but has bounced around and may be destined for a setup role (especially after seeing some closer candidates sign on with teams that already have closers established, like what Bobby Jenks just did). Brian Fuentes also makes for a possible candidate, and is two years removed from a 48-save season in Los Angeles. But, he doesn’t really feature a power arm and may be destined for an 8th inning support role like what George Sherill has become. Former Nat Jon Rauch is available and had good numbers for Minnesota, but he should be a setup guy. Lastly guys like Octavio Dotel,
Trevor Hoffman, and may be closer to retirement than closer roles in the majors.
- Setup/8th Inning: Clippard, Burnett
Nothing shocking here; the two pillars of the bullpen will continue to trade 8th inning responsibilities based on match-ups, and could also form a closer-by-committee with the youngster Storen.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting.
- Righty competition: ERamirez, HRodriguez, Kimball, Carr, Wilkie
I’ve listed rule5 pickup Elvin Ramirez and newly acquired Henry Rodriguez as the two favorites for right handed options out of the bullpen by virtue of their contract statuses. If Ramirez doesn’t stick, we have to return him (or at the very least work out a trade with New York to retain him. Meanwhile. Rodriguez is out of options and would have to pass through waivers to return to the minors. Attempting to do this would pretty much defeat the purpose of trading Willingham away, so he’s likely to stick all year. Kimball and Carr both featured in the AFL and were both 40-man additions to protect them from the rule-5, but unless one or both of them beat out Ramirez and force the Nats to consider his return, both guys are looking at AAA to start the season. Wilkie‘s lack of 40-man standing and his safely passing through two straight years of rule5 drafts may indicate that he’s reached his peak as a player. Perhaps he could earn a mid-season or Sept 1 call-up.
- Loogy competition : Slaten, Severino
Despite adding Atahualpao Severino to the 40-man to protect him, I cannot see him beating out the very effective Doug Slaten as our loogy specialist. Now, Burnett certainly can perform this role as well but he’s more valuable than just serving as a one-batter guy, hence the need for a specialist.
- Long man: Balester, Stammen
Despite all the more advanced stats showing that Craig Stammen was far more effective a starter than his “traditional numbers” showed (he had the 2nd best xFIP to Strasburg of any of our starters last year), it seems that his future is in the bullpen. There’s just too many starters in competition for not enough spots and he’s clearly lagging behind guys who I already believe will start in AAA. 2011 will be his last option year, so this is a make or break year for him. Meanwhile, speaking of options, I believe that Balester is OUT of options (he was brought up in mid 2008, then split both 09 and 2010 between the majors and minors). If he is indeed out of options he may very well get the long man job by default coming out of spring training. If he under-performs, it might spell the end of his nats career (similar to what happened to Jason Bergmann last year).
- AAA/Minors: Mattheus, Bisenius
- 40-man Relievers already released post 2010: Walker, English, Peralta, Batista
I was happy to see both Mattheus and Bisenius return to the Nats fold after getting shuffled off the 40-man. Mattheus has struggled with injuries and still could be a future option, and Bisenius seems to be a blogger favorite.
I was NOT so happy to see that Joel Peralta‘s fine 2010 was not enough to earn him arbitration offers from the Nats, and word came down today that he has signed with Tampa Bay, who desperately needs relievers for a bullpen that was entirely composed of 2010 Free Agents. I understand Washington’s decision NOT to get committed to a mid-30s reliever who seemed to have a career year, but we couldn’t spend $1M on the guy? I could see us re-signing rubber-armed Miguel Batista to compete for a righty slot in the spring. Walker and English are both injury rehab risks and probably sign minor league contracts, with us or someone else.
So; your 2011 bullpen: Storen, Clippard, Burnett, ERamirez, HRodriguez, Slaten and Balester.
Compare this to the 2010 opening day bullpen: Capps, Bruney, Clippard, Burnett, English, Bergmann, Walker, Batista.
Improved? Even ff Ramirez and Rodriguez don’t pan out, I like 2011 better.