A meet-and-greet might be necessary among the Mariners’ bullpen after the unit’s massive off-season overhaul. But it’s hard to dispute this: The reliever corps had to change after last season’s raging disappointment.
The bullpen posted a 4.15 ERA a year ago, which ranked 12th among the 15 American League clubs, after setting a franchise record in 2014 with a 2.59 bullpen ERA that led the majors.
The Mariners jettisoned erstwhile All-Star closer Fernando Rodney in late August, but the departures accelerated under new general manager Jerry Dipoto once the season ended.
Among the departed (deep breath): Tom Wilhelmsen, Carson Smith, Danny Farquhar, Joe Beimel, Logan Kensing, Jose Ramirez, J.C. Ramirez, Tyler Olson and Rob Rasmussen.
The incoming group is big on bounce-back aspirations, including projected closer Steve Cishek. If he stumbles badly, the primary backup closer option is veteran Joaquin Benoit, obtained in a November trade from San Diego.
Cishek, Benoit and lefty Charlie Furbush (if healthy) project as the only locks in what figures to be a seven-man unit that should include two left-handers. Competition elsewhere figures to be keen.
Who’s in camp?
Jonathan Aro (Bats right, throws right, 6 feet, 235 pounds, age 25 on opening day): Acquired with Wade Miley in the trade that sent Smith and Roenis Elias to Boston. Likely ticketed for Tacoma’s bullpen. Option status: Two remaining.
Joaquin Benoit (R-R, 6-4, 250, 38): Veteran trade acquisition from San Diego replaces Smith as bullpen’s primary right-handed setup man (and backup closer). Has 1.98 ERA in 186 games over last three years. Option status: Not applicable.
Steve Cishek (R-R, 6-6, 217, 29): Signed in mid-December to be the closer and, as such, projects as one of the primary keys to the season. Had 2.70 ERA in 249 games from 2011-14 with Marlins. Option status: Not applicable.
Ryan Cook (R-R, 6-2, 217, 28): One of many veteran newcomers looking for a bounce-back season. Could pitch way onto club in spring but more likely to start at Tacoma. Option status: One remaining.
Justin De Fratus (S-R, 6-4, 225, 28): A newcomer who tanked last year after two solid seasons in the Phillies’ bullpen. Will get every chance to pitch his way into middle-relief role. Option status: Not applicable.
Charlie Furbush (L-L, 6-5, 215, 29): Was on pace for best season of his career last year before forearm and shoulder issues sent him to the disabled list for final two-plus months. If healthy, he’s the primary lefty setup reliever. Option status: Two remaining.
Mayckol Guaipe (R-R, 6-4, 235, 25): Has stuff, but he threw way too many hittable strikes last season in four big-league tours. Faces long odds to break camp on the 25-man roster. Option status: Two remaining.
Cody Martin (R-R, 6-3, 230, 26): Claimed on waivers in October from Oakland before Mariners added several other relievers. Needs dominant spring to gain roster consideration. Option status: Two remaining.
Vidal Nuno (L-L, 5-11, 210, 28): Proved a valuable swingman last year after arriving in early June in trade from Arizona. Was particularly effective in relief (1.93 ERA) and vs. lefties (.278 OBP). Good bet to make club as second lefty reliever. Option status: One remaining.
David Rollins (L-L, 6-1, 210, 26): He no longer enjoys roster protection as a Rule 5 pick, so he needs to pitch his way onto the 25-man roster. That figures to be difficult but not impossible. Option status: Three remaining.
Evan Scribner (R-R, 603, 190, 30): Bitten hard last year by home runs (14 allowed in 60 innings) at Oakland. Mariners believe that’s anomaly, but that his control isn’t (11 walks in 98 1/3 innings over last three years). Option status: None remaining.
Tony Zych (R-R, 6-3, 190, 25): Made strong first impression last September by compiling a 2.45 ERA in 13 outings and striking out 24 in 18 1/3 innings. Good bet to make club. Could be a future closer. Option status: Three remaining.
Casey Coleman (L-R, 6-0, 185, 28): A multi-inning lefty who made 10 appearances last season at Kansas City. Mariners are thin on lefty relievers, so he’ll get a look. But he’s figures to open season at Tacoma.
Paul Fry (L-L, 6-0, 190, 23): Was organization’s minor-league reliever of the year in 2015, and it’s possible that he makes the jump from Double-A to the big leagues. But it’s not likely. A guy to watch, though, for the future.
Danny Hultzen (L-L, 6-3, 210, 26): Continuing shoulder miseries wrecked his potential (at least for now) to be an impact starter. So he’s now trying life as a reliever. Hard to see how he pitches well enough in spring to regain spot on roster, but a good early stretch in the minors could force reevaluation.
Blake Parker (R-R, 6-3, 225, 30): Projects as organizational depth. Failed to latch on with another club last year after being released in May by the Cubs. A nine-year pro, he had a 3.68 ERA in 74 big-league appearances from 2012-14.
Joel Peralta (R-R, 5-10, 210, 40): A late non-roster signing an invite, he is an 11-year vet who could easily pitch his way into a middle-relief job. Limited last season by neck-and-shoulder ailments, he averaged 74 appearances from 2011-14.
Three things to watch
1. Is Furbush healthy? The off-season reports are positive, but he hasn’t been on a mound since July 7. So he’ll be on a go-slow program and will be monitored closely.
2. Even if Furbush performs as hoped, who is the second lefty in the bullpen? Dipoto says he wants one. Swingman Nuno probably enters camp as a slight favorite in a thin field.
3. While a poor spring by newcomer Cishek isn’t likely to prompt the Mariners to consider switching closers prior to opening day, he could greatly ease any fingers-crossed anxiety by having a good March in Arizona.
The competition figures to break down along two lines: finding three right-handed relievers in addition to closer Cishek and setup man Benoit; and another lefty to pair with Furbush.
There are lots of bodies, rated similarly, so this is one of those rare occasions when spring performances truly matter.
Scribner rates a big edge for a righty job because he’s out of options. Zych and De Fratus probably enter camp on the good side of the bubble, but Peralta, Cook and Martin should get a long look.
Nuno’s versatility in multi-inning capability and bounce-back availability seems to position him as a favorite to serve as Furbush’s lefty partner.
Other M’s previews
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