Turn off the internet for a second, we’re going to play a game. WiFi’s shut down? Good. Now, can you name all the pitchers who appeared out of the Mariners pen last year? Me neither. But do you know how many different relievers suited up for the team over the 2013 season? Okay, me neither again. Crap. Now go ahead and turn the internet back on, and the answer is fifteen. So it took the Seattle Mariners fifteen relief pitchers to weather the storm of a 162-game season just a year ago. Now for the final part of this game: how many 2014 bullpen candidates can you name? Probably not fifteen. Probably not seven that you’d trust in a close game for a contending team.
Up to this point this series has focused on position players competing for specific roles at their specific positions. This installation focuses on the bullpen, and the bullpen is some kind of messy. For our intents and purposes, let’s assume the team’s going with seven relievers out of camp. Of those seven, we know three with a fair degree of certainty: Fernando Rodney, Danny Farquhar, and Charlie Furbush. After that, it’s an arms race for four roster spots.
Ten other guys who pitched out of the Mariners pen last year are still with the organization, and all ten have varying degrees of likelihood to make the pen out the gates. There’s no shortage of interesting young arms in camp, as usual, and the veteran NRI crowd includes a few names who seem plenty likely to make the club. As a team in need of depth, the Mariners are doing the right thing – accumulating interesting arms and pitting them against one another in a struggle to crack the roster. Let’s meet some of those guys now.
Yoervis Medina: 2013 stats – 68 IP, 9.4 K/9, 5.29 BB/9, 2.91 ERA, 3.86 FIP
Medina is looked at by some outside the organization as a near-lock to make the Mariners, and it makes sense. He was a legitimate pleasant surprise last year, and still looks quite nice if all his red flags are ignored. But there they are, those red flags. The walks, most glaringly, and the artificially depressed ERA, which seems unsustainable going forward. Medina might improve going forward. He might be what he is now, which is a guy whose presence at the low-leverage end of the bullpen is inoffensive. He might get worse, in which case he’s a Tacoma Rainier.
Stephen Pryor: 2013 stats – 7.1 IP, 8.59 K/9, 1.23 BB/9, 0.00 ERA, 1.55 FIP
Every bullpen competition is going to be full of wild cards, by nature of the position. Stephen Pryor represents one of the wildest wild cards in the league, and he has the potential to establish himself as one of the team’s top arms. Health is the wild card, of course, given that he just now is starting to throw again following Tommy John surgery last year. His recovery is ahead of schedule, but all that means is that Pryor might be a Mariner when June starts if all breaks right. As a young flamethrower, he’ll get all the chances to be an elite reliever. But not just yet.
Tom Wilhelmsen: 2013 stats – 59 IP, 6.86 K/9, 5.03 BB/9, 4.12 ERA, 3.69 FIP
The Bartender was terrifically ineffective for much of 2013, spending some time in AAA and losing the closer job to Danny Farquhar. It’s easy to remember him as a decent pitcher, in part because he was so recently a decent pitcher, but the reality of his final line is right up there above this paragraph. That’s his season, despite the fact that he looked awesome for the first chunk of it. Who knows if Wilhelmsen’s done imploding and is going to get back to being a good pitcher. Things don’t always work like that, and in fact it’s wiser to assume Wilhelmsen is going to be more like the pitcher he was towards the end of the year. Towards the end of the year he was Yoervis Medina with less strikeouts, and that’s a guy you can survive with at the end of the pen, and nothing more.
Bobby LaFromboise: 2013 stats – 10.2 IP, 9.28 K/9, 3.38 BB/9, 5.91 ERA, 2.11 FIP
Lucas Luetge: 2013 stats – 37 IP, 6.57 K/9, 3.89 BB/9, 4.86 ERA, 3.75 FIP
For a few years now, the Mariners have made a point of carrying at least two lefties in the pen, and three at times. For the last couple years they’ve relied heavily on Charlie Furbush and Oliver Perez, who remains a candidate to re-sign. But with Perez currently still at large, it appears that one of Luetge or LaFromboise is in a good position to make the team. Neither is really anything special, and would be on the big league club almost entirely due to his handedness. Which is why the Mariners brought in a bevy of alternatives.
Want alternatives to Luetge/LaFromboise as the pen’s second lefty? Here they are. The idea behind building a bullpen is that you take a bunch of guys who are interesting for some reason or another and put them in camp and see what, if anything, happens. None of these guys are likely to make the team. Some of them I know absolutely actual nothing about, aside from that they are left handed. But that doesn’t mean they won’t make the team, because the competition is probably just about as talented as they are. Randy Wolf is the name to watch here, since he’s had a long career as a major league starter and could make an effective lefty reliever or spot starter if needed. He’s intriguing. Beimel’s cool too, I guess, and look, just pick a guy with a cool name and root for him during spring training. There’s not much else to do in spring training other than pick a guy with a cool name and hope that he makes the team, so that you can hear his cool name more. Gill-Hee-Knee. Cool.
Here are eight more relief pitchers who are in camp with the Seattle Mariners right now. They are all right-handed, and none of them are any more likely than the others to make the club. But it seems that every year one of these types goes with the Mariners to Oakland or Los Angeles or whatever to start the year. Again, pick a cool name. I’m going with Logan Bawcom, just because he sounds so left-handed but isn’t. That’s one of the leftiest names I’ve ever heard, yet Bawcom pitches right handed. Weird.
Erasmo Ramirez: 2013 stats (as a reliever) – 1.2 IP, 5.4 K/9, 0.0 BB/9, 5.40 ERA, 1.85 FIP
Erasmo made but one relief appearance last season and is still a legit rotation candidate, but look. The Mariners are trying to take a big step forward this season, right? Erasmo should theoretically be on the fringes of the rotation despite all his talent. There’d be nothing wrong with sticking him in the pen as a highly capable swingman, along the lines of what Scott Feldman was for a few years with the Rangers. The Mariners, as currently constructed, probably need Ramirez in the rotation, but the idea of having your sixth starter ready and waiting in the bullpen isn’t a bad one.
Brandon Maurer: 2013 stats (as a reliever) – 20.1 IP, 7.97 K/9, 2.66 BB/9, 6.64 ERA, 5.16 FIP
Same idea as above, except that Maurer is less needed in the rotation and might profile best as a mopup guy in 2014. Who knows what’s up with his development after his aggressive promotion and subsequent battering last year. He’s a better long man candidate than Hector Noesi or Blake Beavan ever will be, and if the team isn’t comfortable with Erasmo in the pen, Maurer shouldn’t be much worse and may be a better bet than Randy Wolf.
Aside from bonafide talents Farquhar, Furbush, and Rodney, the Mariners have a lot of flotsam and jetsam competing for four very available bullpen spots. One of those has to be a multi-inning spot starter type, and one probably has to be a lefty. That leaves room for a reclamation project and an interesting young guy, by my approximation. There are so many names, of course, so pinning down specifics seems nearly impossible. My best guess is that those four roles are filled in order by Maurer, Luetge, Wilhelmsen, and Medina, if only due to their familiarity. Maybe Wolf makes the pen as the lefty and the sixth starter, freeing a spot for Dominic Leone or someone. Who knows. Nobody knows. It’s the bullpen.
Four spots, dozens of competitors. Say it like that and it’s hard to imagine this not working out smashingly for the Mariners in 2014. With that many bodies in camp, surely they can find four awesome candidates for major-league innings, right? Right? Relievers are precariously volatile, and so it’s always a possibility that yesterday’s scrubs are tomorrow’s stars. Most often, though, scrubs are just scrubs.