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What’s gonna happen with the Reds’ bullpen?

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Bullpens are generally volatile animals, but this one has very little stability going forward

MLB: Cincinnati Red-Workouts The Enquirer-USA TODAY Sports

A long, long, long time ago, I wrote this re: bullpens

I'm fascinated by relief pitchers. They are interesting because they are clearly the third-most important squad on any baseball team. Bullpens are overwhelmingly populated by cast-offs, riff-raff, no-good-nicks, and ne'er-do-wells. Building a bullpen is less like selecting a playground kickball team and more like staffing a pirate ship. The only ones willing to take the job are ones that can't get jobs doing anything better.

I think it holds up pretty well. But anyway, I was looking for a way to lede this piece and I didn’t wanna write something original.

The Reds’ bullpen as it currently exists seems a particularly unstable lot, though. Even great teams have arms that come and go over the course of a season, and that is doubly true from year to year. But as their historically bad rotation is hopefully maybe kinda clarifying just a little bit, the future of the bullpen looks murky.

This hasn’t really been all that big of a deal for the past few years because rebuilding teams, if they do it right, don’t sweat a bunch over the bullpen. But if the Reds are interested in competing next year (and I think they are and I think they can), then this is gonna hafta get sorted out. A conventional bullpen carries seven pitchers, and assuming the Reds don’t get way unconventional about it, that means that they probably have five spots to get straightened out. So let’s take a look.

Raisel Iglesias has turned himself into one of the best bullpen arms in the game. He is unquestionably the ace and anchor of the ‘pen, if not the stupid closer. He has a 2.04 ERA in 66.1 innings. There are still some hardcores out there who will grumble that he hasn’t been given another shot at being a starter, and while I’m still a twinge sympathetic to the idea, it won’t happen and it’s actually fine that it won’t.

So that’s one. The second definite spot doesn’t belong to Michael Lorenzen, as you may have assumed (we’ll get to him later). But rather it’s Wandy Peralta. He is 25 and this this is just his rookie year, but he has availed himself quite well. He has pitched to a respectable 3.39 ERA in 58.1 innings so far, establishing himself as the #1 lefty out of the ‘pen for Bryan Price. Here’s hoping he keeps it up.

So what of the other five spots? Blake Wood has been respectable if unspectacular the last few years, but he was DFA’d in August and is now and Angel. So he’s gone. Drew Storen has been fine, but he is a free agent at year’s end. Tony Cingrani was traded to the Dodgers at the July deadline (/gazes at Cy Schourek with sympathetic eyes). Lisalverto Bonilla was just DFA’d this morning. I suspect the same will happen to Asher Wojciechowski and Scrabbles’ Heart-Star Tim Adelman before the year is out.

Lorenzen has been good the last year-and-a-half coming on in relief, but there is some interest from both him and the Reds in moving him back to the rotation. The debate is pretty standard ( - “He is successful in the bullpen! Why change?” - “He has the stuff to be a good starter! Why not give it a chance?”) and has no obvious answer. There are so many variables that effect it that will need to be sorted out first, like who will stick in the rotation and what kind of additions are made this winter, so I don’t think it is wise to count on him being in the ‘pen going forward. At least, not for this little bloghole exercise, anyway.

So what else? A lot of it depends on how all of the young starting rotation candidates shake out. At this point, the Reds have indicated that Luis Castillo and Sal Romano are likely to start next year in the rotation. And if Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, and Brandon Finnegan are healthy, they will, too. So if everything goes as planned, they need to figure something out for the likes of Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett, Cody Reed, Rookie Davis, and Tyler Mahle.

Stephenson put together a very impressive August, starting four games (and pitching two good relief innings in another) and posting a 2.22 ERA. Garrett, Reed, and Davis have all taken steps backwards both in the big leagues and in Louisville. Mahle has killed AA and AAA this season, but has only started one game so far for the Reds. Some of these fellas might end up in the bullpen, instead.

Barrett Astin, Austin Brice, Ariel Hernandez, and Alejandro Chacin have pitched out of the Reds’ bullpen this year and are definitely candidates for next year, as well. None has done much to impress in Cincy, and only Chacin can say so in Louisville, even. Jimmy Herget has continued his rise through the minor-league system this year, pitching a sub-3.00 ERA between AA and AAA. He’ll probably get a look-see this month in Cincinnati.

Also, the Reds are said to be interested in spending a bit of treasure this off-season to help plug some gaps. That could mean buying a free agent or two or making some trades, so who knows what could happen there. I suspect at least one Drew Storen-kinda move and maybe more and/or better, but it’s pretty early to speculate about any of that.

I have a feeling the Reds’ bullpen is gonna look quite a bit different come March than it does right now. That’s not remarkable in it’s own right, as I mean, duh. Bullpens usually do. But I think it is especially true for this team and this particular point in time. It’s definitely something to keep an eye one moving forward.