After years of agony, the Reds bullpen was actually respectable last year. The starters underperformed and, as expected, the offense regressed, but the bullpen held their own and was one of the best in the league. The days of 8th inning BOHICAs became distant memories, replaced by much flag-waving and mirth.
Of course, Coco was not the only reason the bullpen solidified last year, but there is no doubting his contribution. Many will complain about the price tag, and legitimately so, but Wayner finally did it. His tenure was basically forgettable and short, but if there is an epitath to be written for it, it would go like this: "My kingdom for a bullpen!" After millions of dollars and an infamous trade (and numerous onerous contract blunders) he finally did it. And then he was fired.
So what I want to do here is take a look at what went right for the bullpen last year and what needs to be done to ensure a repeat performance. Out of the 6 main arms in the pen last year, 3 of them are free agents.
Francisco Cordero - 70.3 INN, 3.33 ERA, 1.40 WHIP
David Weathers - 69.3 INN, 3.25 ERA, 1.53 WHIP
Jeremy Affeldt - 78.3 INN, 3.33 ERA, 1.31 WHIP
Mike Lincoln - 70.3 INN, 4.48 ERA, 1.28 WHIP
Billy Bray - 47.0 INN, 2.87 ERA, 1.57 WHIP
Jared Burton - 58.7 INN, 3.22 ERA, 1.38 WHIP
As you can see, Dusty really hung his hat on Affeldt, Weathers, and Lincoln. They really made up the spine of the bullpen last year and it's going to be tough to replace all that productivity. The strength of the pen was really in its depth, as these 6 guys, each one of them, could be relied upon to get the big out when needed. These 6 combined to throw almost 400 innings, and at a combined ERA of 3.45. That's no joke right there.
As we learned last week, Weathers isn't coming back. He should be the easiest of the group to replace, as his ERA is deceptively low. His WHIP was really high considering such a low ERA, so one can reasonably assume his success was due in large part to Lady Luck. But still, he ate up a ton of innings and didn't let many runners cross the plate. We need another arm who can do that.
Lincoln was really a refreshing surprise last year, as he came out of nowhere and really abused opposing hitters with his bona-fide curveball. He's kind of the opposite of Weathers, as his ERA is pretty high considering his WHIP. I'll talk a little more about him later.
Affeldt will be the most difficult to replace of the 3. He was the closest thing the Reds had to a relief ace, as he was equally effective against lefties and righties. I was going to write a whole big deal about how the Reds should make every attempt to resign him, but the Giants stepped in and signed him just as I was writing this. So awesome.
So what can the Reds do to replace these guys? Unlike in previous years, there are internal options in the minors waiting to step up. Josh Roenicke, Carlos Fisher, Danny Ray Herrera, and Nick Masset all show signs of being decent to good. Roenicke could be a future closer, Fisher had a hell of a year last year, Herrera could be a legitimate LOOGY, and Masset is famous for being traded for a legend. There is also the prospect of one or more of the losers in the 5th starter derby ending up in the pen, so we could see Owings, Bailey, Thompson, Ramirez, or Maloney as a long reliever or something like that. But doing nothing and relying on these guys to repeat the performances of the departed would be folly. It could happen, but I wouldn't bank on it. I'll assume that out of this collective the Reds could fill one of the three vacancies, as this doesn't seem all that crazy.
So the Reds should be sorting among the free agents to find a good LOOGY and a strong innings-eating righty (trading for such things is retarded so FA is really the only non-retarded route). So who's out there?
1) Mike Lincoln. He really is the sensible choice, and as The Great Emancipator once said "one shouldn't swap horses in the middle of the stream". We rode him pretty hard last year and he and his bionic arm held up all right, so why not try it again? He made a cool 550k last year and certainly earned a raise.
2) Luis Ayala. He has a career WHIP of 1.25 and doesn't give up many home runs. He may cost a bit more than Lincoln though, as I can see him seeking a 3 year deal. He made 1.7 mil last year between Washington and the Mets and could be looking at something like 3-4 mil a year. With all the cash tied up at the back end of the pen though, it may be tough to throw more money at another guy who won't pitch more than 70 innings.
3) Bob Howry. Slyde mentioned his name earlier in the Monday Linkage thread and he makes some sense. He's been about as awesome as a middle reliever can be over the past 5 seasons, accept for last year when he started giving up more hits and more home runs. He's a good bounce back candidate though, as his K/BB ratio was pretty much in line with his career marks. He is a Type A free agent, but it doesn't look like the Cubs want to risk offering him arbitration. They might, in which case I would pass on him. But if they don't then go for it. Perhaps the Reds could buy low on him and make him the next David Weathers (when he was good)? He'll be 35 next year.
4) Juan Cruz. He would be the safe, uncreative, big money signing. The past two years he has struck out about 14 batters per 9 innings, which is like good and stuff. He may be in line for a 4 year deal. He's been talked about as a closer candidate for some teams as well, so the price could really get lofty. Oh, and he's a Type A and the D-Backs are definitely going to offer arbitration, so he would cost a 2nd round pick next June. I only really included him on this list because he is a good example of what not to do with free agency and bullpens.
5) Joe Beimel. You wanna LOOGY? This guy's a LOOGY. Lefties OPS .722 against him and slug under .400. He's given up 1 (one) home run (Carlos Beltran) the past two seasons, spanning 116.3 innings. He'll be 32 next year and I can see him getting the same kind of deal that Affeldt just got from the Giants (reportedly a 2-year, 8 mil deal).
6) Will Ohman. Another LOOGY, he's only given up 6 dingers the past 2 seasons. He's more LOOGY than Beimel, as lefties only OPS .603 against him. That's worse than Paul Bako. He and Beimel are really the best looking LOOGYs out there, and we could really use a true one. Bray filled the role admirably last year, but he is better served getting everyone out, not just the lefties.
8) Derrick Turbow. Yeah I know he sucked for over a year in Milwaukee and got his walking papers last May, but listen. The dude had a bad year. I mean, an awful year. Like, worse than Mike Stanton and Todd "BT" Coffey put together. But he could be had on a minor league deal and a spring training invite. For his career, he strikes out more than 9 every 9 innings and doesn't give up homers very easily. Except for last season. Yeesh. But honestly, his past performance should not be completely overshadowed by last year. He could be a steal.
Of course, there could be a trade or two that goes down this winter and perhaps a good bullpen arm could be had as part of a deal, but that kind of speculation is really a non-starter. So there you have it. Should the Reds go with (4) more years of Lincoln? Should we really embrace the youth movement and rely on the youngsters? Do your best Wayner impression, put on a colorfully patterened crew neck and let's build a bullpen!