Possibly the biggest question mark heading into the 2012 regular season is the structure of the bullpen. It’ll look a lot different than last year, as workhorse Ryan Madson now calls Cincinnati his home, Danys Baez decided to retire, and Brad Lidge took his talents to Washington. We all thought that the bullpen would have some more swagger this year with the arrival of Dontrelle Willis, but he pitched poorly and found himself without a job.
Filling Madson’s role as closer will be Jonathan Papelbon, no question about that. But after that, things are a little foggy, with the exception of Antonio Bastardo–he’s the only 100%, definite, lock. Other guys may be close, but not quite there yet. That leaves four presumable spots in the bullpen.
The way I see it, guys with reasonable chance to take up those four spots in no particular order are Michael Stutes, Jose Contreras, Justin De Fratus, David Herndon, Kyle Kendrick, Chad Qualls, and Michael Schwimer. I think Phillippe Aumont is destined for the minors, barring something out of the ordinary happening. So that’s eight guys–all of whom pitched in the bigs last year–fighting for four spots.
Stutes is coming off a year where he not only surprised everyone–especially the ladies who fell in love with his good looks–by even making the roster, but opened some eyes with how well he did in the beginning. He tailed off a bit towards the end of the year, but finished with a 3.63 ERA over 62 innings. We will be hearing the “Stuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuutes!” chants at Citizens Bank Park again, as he will make the club with ease, and most likely be slotted in a middle relief spot. Status: In
Mr. Contreras will be without one of his best friends this year, as his buddy Danys Baez hung up the cleats after 10 seasons. Last year, one of the reasons Contreras decided to come back to the Phils was because of Baez. The absence of Baez, however, should not affect Contreras in any way. Right now, he’s a huge question mark, as his surgically repaired elbow will decide his fate. He’s coming along slow, but pitching coach Rich Dubee doesn’t seem to mind if he isn’t ready for Opening Day. “If it’s opening day, it’s opening day,” Dubee said. “There isn’t any rush.” I think that Contreras will start the year either on the DL, or on an a rehab assignment in the minors. Status: Out
Justin De Fratus:
De Fratus is currently battling a sore elbow, and has yet to pitch this Spring. Unfortunately for him, even if he is healthy by Opening Day, he hasn’t gotten a chance to really prove his worth in Spring Training, and doesn’t have anything proven in the Majors yet, so he won’t make the cut. Status: Out
Herndon may be the opposite of fan favorite. He always seemed to be on the mound when things went south for the Phils, sometimes due to his poor pitching, and other times due to poor defense. However, he actually pitched fairly last year. He posted a 3.32 ERA over 57 innings, and was actually near the middle of the pack among Phillies relievers in many categories. He’ll make the cut, but be slotted in a mop-up relief role, so we won’t see him in many crucial situations in 2012. Status: In
Kendrick is another everyone-hates-this-guy pitcher. And it is even more undeserved than Herndon because Kendrick had a really good year last year. He pitched to a 3.22 ERA in 114.2 innings, and make more than one great emergency start. He’s perfect for the long relief/spot starter role, which is actually pretty valuable to the team. He’s going to make it. Status: In
Qualls is a newcomer to the team, as he spent last year with the Padres after a miserable 2010 season with two teams. He did pretty well last year, which could mean good things to come this year. He’s given up four runs in four innings thus far in Spring Training, but those runs are only off five hits. I don’t read too much into Spring Training stats, and Qualls is very close to being a total lock to make the team, so his Spring Stats won’t hold much weight in the decision anyway. Status: In
If you’ve been keeping track, you would know that I’ve already picked my four guys to round out the bullpen, which means that Schwimer is out. I think he was always destined for the minors, at least to start the season. He didn’t do so well pitching for the Phils last year (5.02 ERA in 14.1 innings), and is still fairly young at 26 years old. Plus the Phillies have better options right now. He’s given up two runs in 4.2 innings this Spring, to go along with five strikeouts. It won’t be enough, though. Status: Out
So that’s Stutes, Herndon, Kendrick, and Qualls making the club. Herndon will be the mop-up guy, Kendrick will be the long man, and Stutes and Qualls will share middle relief. The one thing that the Phils lack, however, is a lefty specialist. Willis was thought to be that guy, but things didn’t work out. If I were Ruben Amaro Jr., I’d go find myself a lefty specialist, and put him in place of Herndon. But I don’t think that’s likely, and the guys I listed above are most likely the guys you will see pitching at Citizens Bank Park this year.