Photo credit: Roger Dewitt
In previous articles, I covered spring training questions surrounding the regular position players, the bench, and the starting pitchers. Today, I'll finish up the series with the area having the most question marks - the bullpen.
While the Tigers made a lot of upgrades this winter to other parts of the team, they really did not make any significant moves to bolster their bullpen after Joel Zumaya got hurt. Thus, there will be a lot of pitchers with less than stellar resumes competing for spots this spring. The only certainty at this point seems to be that Todd Jones will close. Fernando Rodney came into camp as a lock to be the set up man. That probably still holds but the news of his shoulder discomfort earlier this week creates a little uncertainty. It's not supposed to be anything serious but it's something to watch.
As we try to sort out the rest of opening day bullpen, it's important to consider the options status of everyone involved. The following pitchers have options remaining and thus can be freely sent to the minors:
The following pitchers have no options remaining:
Any of these pitchers would have to go through waivers before he could be sent to the minors. Thus, the Tigers would risk losing a pitcher such as Bazardo or Cruceta if they tried to option him out.
While it's important to consider options in understanding roster decisions, one should also remember that most players do clear waivers. Eddie B recently compiled a list of 47 players who were placed on waivers last spring and found that 41 cleared waivers. Thus, a contending team like the Tigers is not likely to send a Zach Miner to the minors if they clearly consider him one of their 7 best relievers. Options will come into play to break ties. For example, if the 12th spot comes down to Miner or Cruceta and they really like both of them, then Cruceta would probably make the team.
Beyond Jones and Rodney, Seay and Byrdak would seem to be locks if they pitch well this spring. Given Byrdak's history of wildness and less than dominating stuff, pitching well is not a guarantee. It remains to be seen whether last year was a fluke or whether he was a late bloomer at age 33. While Grilli infuriates a lot of fans, he has been pretty close to a league average pitcher over the last couple of years, although he probably shouldn't pitch 79 2/3 innings again this year. Anyway, even if some fans don't like Grilli, Leyland does like him so he'll likely make the team unless he looks awful this spring.
After that, it gets more difficult. Miner was one of their better relievers last year but he has an option left and thus will get some competition from Cruceta, Bazardo and possibly Bautista. Bazardo pitched well last September and is probably their best option for spot (or more than spot) starts. Thus, he is probably someone they would not risk losing. I am still a bit skeptical about Cruuceta but the Tigers raved about him this winter and I'm not sure they would risk losing him. Given Bautista's age (27) and track record, I think there is a good chance that he would clear waivers if they wanted to send him tho the minors.
So, if we assume that everyone stays healthy and pitches reasonably well this spring, the follow seven pitchers are the best bets to be around on opening day:
Chances are though that injuries and disappointing spring performances will make the final decision easier than it looks right now. And by performance I'm not talking about spring stats. I'm talking about a pitcher that who just doesn't have good control or good stuff all spring. If anything goes wrong with the above 7 pitchers, Miner would be the next candidate. After that, it's anybody's guess.