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Mariners Bullpen Far From Finalized

Brandon MorrowThe one place the Mariners actually have some legitimate spring training competition is in the bullpen. As much as the Bedard trade impacted the M's starting rotation, its effects are prominent in the bullpen too, thanks to the departure of George Sherrill (86/84) and "return" of Brandon Morrow (75/81). Here is how the bullpen is shaping up as of now:

LOCKS TO MAKE THE OPENING DAY BULLPEN
  • J.J. Putz (89/87) - He is one of the best closers in baseball, and there is no way anybody is taking away his job, no matter how he or others perform.
  • Brandon Morrow (75/81) - Morrow went to Venezuela as a starter to prepare for a likely job in the rotation, but the acquisitions of Carlos Silva (75/74) and Erik Bedard (96/94) changed things. He will be back as the right-handed setup man, the same role he worked his way into last year.
  • Sean Green (73/72) - Green was a bit of an unsung hero for the Mariners last year, but his breakout performance did not go unnoticed by McLaren and the front office. He will man primarily the seventh inning, as he did by the end of last year.
Depending on the number of position players the Mariners keep, that leaves either three or four spots in the bullpen yet to be determined. Here are the prime contenders for the remaining spots:

LEFT-HANDERS
  • Eric O'Flaherty (78/83) - Though Sean Green was a pleasant surprise, the real unsung hero for me from last year's bullpen was O'Flaherty. He is a better left-hander than he gets credit for, even from the Mariners. For me, he would be a lock to make the bullpen, but that does not seem to be the case with the Mariners. He should take over Sherrill's role the last couple years, and even though he is not a lock, he is still the clear front-runner.
  • Cesar Jimenez (60/72) - Jimenez missed a bunch of time last year due to injury, but showed some promise in Tacoma in his 16 appearances. He is healthy again, and the Mariners like him enough to give him a chance to compete with O'Flaherty for the lefty specialist job. Cesar has a very nice change-up, and it is the main reason the M's see him as a viable option this year. If I were in charge he would be ticketed for Tacoma, both because I think he still has a little room to grow before being a good bullpen option, and also because I think highly of O'Flaherty.
  • Horacio Ramirez (55/55) - There is no spot for Ho-Ram in the rotation, but he's still making over $2 million a year, so it is hard to believe the M's will have no qualms sending him down to Tacoma to start the season. That is where he should be, but at this point he seems to be a leading candidate for long relief.
  • Ryan Rowland-Smith (73/79) - I cannot tell what the Mariners are thinking with Rowland-Smith. Along with Morrow, Ryan was stretched over the winter to become a potential starter, though he was a long shot to make the rotation even before the Bedard trade. The M's seem quite enamored with Jimenez, and may opt to keep him and O'Flaherty, and send Rowland-Smith to Tacoma and let him develop as a starter. They may also decide to keep Ho-Ram around as a long reliever, which would also squeeze Ryan out of the picture. To me it is obvious that O'Flaherty and Rowland-Smith should be the two bullpen lefties though.
RIGHT-HANDERS
  • Chris Reitsma (50/50) - Listening to McLaren talk about Reitsma, one of the bullpen slots may be his to lose. Chris has been a solid major league pitcher for a long time, but really fell off the table last year thanks to several arm injuries. He is healthy again, and according to the M's coaching staff he has looked impressive. If he returns to form, he would be a valuable pitcher to have. He is a non-roster invitee, so a spot on the 40-man roster would have to be cleared for him.
  • Mark Lowe (68/87) - Lowe's rating in my system is based off of his 2006 numbers, because he did not play much in 2007 thanks to a very serious arm injury. Lowe throws hard and has good mound presence, but he still looks a little rusty to me. If the M's can afford to (and they can), it would be best to let him get back in the groove of professional baseball in AAA.
  • R.A. Dickey (64/67) - The Rule 5 selection and knuckleball specialist does not have as good of a chance to make the roster now that Erik Bedard is in town, but he still has a chance. Thanks to the low strain a knuckleball puts on the body, he could pitch multiple innings on consecutive days, making him an intriguing option as a long reliever. His first couple spring outings were rather rocky, but his most recent was quite good.
OTHERS WITH AN OUTSIDE CHANCE
  • Ryan Feierabend (57/72) - The M's are giving him a bit of a look as a left-handed reliever. He may be a solid option, but there are at least three better options for that role in O'Flaherty, Rowland-Smtih, and Jimenez. He should continue to develop as a starter in AAA.
  • Jake Woods (51/59) - Also a lefty, but he simply is not as good as other ones in camp. He is off to a hot start this spring, and if he stays hot he may stick around and be considered a little more seriously.
  • Cha Seung Baek (73/73) - Baek was going to get a look as a potential starting candidate until the Bedard trade, so now he is an option for long relief. However, I think there are too many pitchers in front of him the M's prefer for him to have a realistic chance.
  • Sean White (65/65) - White was a Rule 5 selection last year, but did not play much thanks to an injury. Like Baek, I think there are too many guys the M's prefer in front of him. He was stretched out as a starter in the winter, and he may get a chance to continue to start in Tacoma.
  • Jon Huber (53/62) - Huber turned heads when he posted a 1.08 ERA in 16 appearances with the M's in 2006, but really struggled in 2007. He'll likely have to bounce back in Tacoma before the Mariners strongly consider him again.
As of now, here is who I think the Mariners will carry in their bullpen:
  • R.A. Dickey
  • Horacio Ramirez
  • Chris Reitsma
  • Sean Green
  • Eric O'Flaherty
  • Brandon Morrow
  • J.J. Putz
R.A. Dickey is the one I'm least confident on by far. I could see the M's going with Jimenez or Rowland-Smith instead, or deciding to go with only a six-man bullpen. Here is who I would keep in the bullpen:
  • R.A. Dickey
  • Ryan Rowland-Smith
  • Sean Green
  • Eric O'Flaherty
  • Brandon Morrow
  • J.J. Putz
Between more effective starters and Dickey, who can pitch multiple innings any given night, I think the bullpen would be just fine with only six members. Also, if the M's only carry a six-man bullpen, it will make it easier to keep INF Mike Morse (69/75), who is out of minor league options. As long as O'Flaherty takes over for Sherrill, I do not think there is much the Mariners can do to really irk me with their bullpen selections.