I don't think it's a stretch to say that the Reds' bullpen, on paper, is one of the best in the NL At the very least, it's one of the most improved. There was a lot of turnover at the top-end and in the upper minors this offseason. The most important questions about the team's relief core, in my mind, revolve around the question of depth:
1. How much worse off are the Reds if Madson or Marshall go down?
2. Should Chapman be a member of the bullpen under any circumstances, even if they need a lefty?
The 'pen is where the Reds' made two of their three biggest offseason moves and coincidentally where the Reds are looking the most hobbled so far this spring. There are signs that all three relievers (Madson, Bray, Masset) are on the mend, but we don't have a great idea what the 'pen will look like in two weeks on Opening Day, especially since there are other variables, including what the Reds want to do with Jeff Francis (who can opt out at the end of the month) and Aroldis Chapman.
What I hope happens is: (1) that everyone is healthy and (2) that the Reds consider putting Jeff Francis in the bullpen if they're afraid at all of losing him at the end of the month. I don't think either scenario is that likely, but I already printed a bunch of tee-shirts with that say: "What I hope happens is (1) that everyone is healthy and (2) that the Reds consider putting Jeff Francis in the bullpen if they're afraid at all of losing him at the end of the month" on them. I hope you'll buy one if you're planning to hang out at Walt Jocketty's house.
I've ranked the pitchers (after the jump) roughly by projected use. The Top 7 is the projected bullpen entering 2012, ignoring possible injuries, while #8-#15 are the "next up." Each reliever waiting in line will slide into a different role, depending on who is replaced.
If Bray isn't ready for Opening Day, Clay Zavada would be a likely suspect to take his place - jumping Josh Judy - while a spot opened up by a righty would favor Judy. So this is just a rough guide to who the Reds trust to join their bullpen. The "Role ('12 celing)" gives an indication how things would be re-shuffled with a vacancy. If Nick Masset isn't ready to start the season, I could see Arredondo filling his role, with Judy and Ondrusek as Middle Relievers.
I've kept Aroldis Chapman, Jeff Francis and Kyle Lotzkar off this list, since they're projected as starters in 2012. But I wouldn't be surprised to see one or all of them pitching out of the pen, though Lotzkar is probably not going to see any time in the majors this season.
|| 40 man?
||Zips projected ERA+
||Role ('12 start)||Role ('12 ceiling)||Expected level on OD 2012
||27||Y||97||Middle Reliever||Middle Reliever||MLB|
|11||Jordan Smith||26||Y||76||-||Middle relief||AAA|
One thing that strikes me in taking this inventory is that the Reds should probably keep Clay Zavada around if they can. Exhibit A: His middle name is Pflibson. I know Walt 'n' Dusty don't see Chapman they same way I do, but committing him as a starter leaves Clayton Tanner as a truly viable lefty replacement. So why not make sure 50% of Reds' lefties are named Clay?
Donnie Joseph probably counts in there too, but he had a rocky year in Carolina and has yet to throw a pitch above AA. I may have left him unfairly off this list, but it's hard to see him getting major league playing time this season.
The excitement for the Steal of the Offseason has been dampened by an elbow injury that's kept Madson from making his spring debut in Red. Friend of the Blog andromache spun out a few hilarious scenarios that could result form Madson's "elbow irritation," but assuming he's fine the Reds should get an elite closer in his prime. How many wins - or runs saved - that equates to above Cordero is open for debate.
Madson has averaged nearly 66 innings per year over the last five seasons in Philly, which is right in line with the workload Cordero was given while serving as the Reds' closer. The difference, aside from their ages, is that Madson has kept both his ERA and FIP under 3.00 the last few seasons, while approaching his prime (closer-adjusted) years. His flyball rate has been comparable to Cordero too, though his HR% may have been depressed last season. GABP could drive up his ERA, but he has plenty of room for error. Against a slightly easier schedule and a fanbase with fewer projectiles - battery and barf alike - Madson's greater impediment right now is his health.
Get well soon.
Bray hasn't pitched yet this spring, but last season he was poison to lefties, who hit 180/.265/.292 off him. Righties hit 100pts of OPS better, but still only did a .226/.290/.369 line. While he may have seemed like more of a lefty specialist, Bray still faced righties 48% of the time in 2011. You can argue the inefficiency of using relievers to face 1-2 hitters, but there is some justification - in both his career splits and history of injury - for using Bray as more of a place-kicker.
Masset was the object of a lot of scorn last year for his meltdowns and occasional mental lapses. It's hard to ignore the fact that his top-line stats have all been heading in the wrong direction for two years straight. Encouraging peripherals and "stuff" that still looks lethal are cold comfort until they start producing results, but the Reds believe in his bounceback potential enough to give him a two-year $5.5M contract when they could have settled for significantly less guaranteed money. Does that mean they read Fangraphs or that they just really like Nick Masset, against their better judgment?
Like David Weathers before them, Arredondo and Masset were there at critical late-game moments last season to make things interesting with their spotty control. Arredondo, however, has a better excuse: he's much more recently recovered from Tommy John surgery. Still, a 5.3 BB/9 rate tastes bad no matter how much sugar you pore on it. Arredondo walked 13.7% of batters faced (to Masset's 10%), but he did manage to be less hittable and miss more bats when he was on frame. 'Dondo is likely never going to be known for keeping a low walk-rate, but it's said that control is the last thing to return after TJ surgery. Also, he's been stabbed. So cut him some slack.