30 Rangers In 30 Days: The Bullpen

If making the playoffs has taught the Rangers anything over the last 3 years, it’s to understand and embrace the value of a strong bullpen. To think they made the World Series in 2010 with guys like Clay Rapada, Darren O’Day and Darren Oliver eating up meaningful innings, it’s confounding how they were able to manipulate Major League lineups. Alexi Ogando (+0.8 fWAR in ~40 IP) and Neftali Feliz (+1.9 fWAR in ~70 IP) were really the only two of the group who could conceivably be considered elite.

In 2011, they understood that this was an obvious area to easily improve upon — especially with Alexi Ogando in the rotation — so they acquired Mike Adams (from the Padres) and Koji Uehara (from the Orioles) at the trade deadline. By the time the postseason began, Ogando was back in the bullpen with Feliz, and, on paper, with how strong the bullpen was that year, there seems to be a small level of cosmic irony that they were the ones who couldn’t finish off the Cardinals.

In 2012, the Rangers went to get an aged veteran coming off a so-so rehab season (Joe Nathan) and a guy who hadn’t pitched more than a handful of innings in Double-A (Robbie Ross). Along with Adams, Uehara, Ogando, those two pitchers contributed to Texas having one of the best bullpens in the Major Leagues (again).

After that brief history lesson, we’re now in 2013. And stuff. Adams and Uehara are gone. Neftali Feliz is hurt and might not pitch at all next year. Their minor- but potentially major free agent acquisition, Joakim Soria (2 years, $8 million), might not pitch until June. The spots that appear like guarantees when the season starts are the closer Joe Nathan, the setup man Jason Frasor, RHP Tanner Scheppers, LHP Robbie Ross (if he doesn’t work his way into the 5th starter spot), and LHP Michael Kirkman.

Beyond them, you are basically dealing with roughly 5 pitchers competing for two spots. I think the Rangers are sort of prone to exercise the Wilmer Font experiment, as well as see what they have with Josh Lindblom (acquired in the Michael Young trade with PHI), RHP Cory Burns, and RHP Cody Woods. If the Rangers believe in Font’s upside as much as the fan’s perceive they do, then only spot would remain.

That brings us to Justin Grimm. He seems like a pretty safe candidate to be the long man (as Scott Feldman once was), but, a lot like I mentioned yesterday with MIF Leury Garcia, I’m not sure the Rangers want to hinder anything in his development process. However, I’m also not sure if the Rangers feel Leury Garcia or Justin Grimm will be much better than they are right now. If that’s the case, they are both decent bets on the Opening Day roster.

Pause. Quick aside: Spring Training results don’t really matter. The organization, today, has a pretty strong idea of who will be on their 25-man roster. I highly doubt they are going to determine a roster spot based on which players have the lowest Spring Training earned run averages. 

So there you have it. Beyond the 5 rotation spots, the bullpen should shake out to something like this (in ascending order):

RHP Justin Grimm

RHP Wilmer Font

LHP Michael Kirkman

RHP Tanner Scheppers

LHP Robbie Ross

RHP Jason Frasor

RHP Joe Nathan

 

Cool. Now, let’s look at our potential bullpen, assuming Soria comes back healthy, and if Neftali Feliz can make it back by the end of the season:

 

LHP Michael Kirkman

RHP Tanner Scheppers

LHP Robbie Ross

RHP Jason Frasor

RHP Joakim Soria

RHP Neftali Feliz

RHP Joe Nathan

 

The 2nd list appears like the more dominant of the two, because we’d like to think both Soria and Feliz will come back at full strength. If the Rangers bullpen can survive until those two arrive, they have the makings of one of the better bullpens in the league, albeit a group more foreign to us compared to those we lost this offseason.

Whoever ends up making it, their tasks will be simple. They are in roles, and they need to fulfill them. I would like to set the bar low on how much WAR they will be worth, because as long as your bullpen is in the +WAR, you can live with yourself. They cannot be as bad as the Angels’ bullpen was last year, because odds are we will be royally screwed where standings are concerned.

Between the collection, I’d like to assume +3.0 fWAR, but Nathan and Ross and potentially Scheppers and Font, can catch fire and strikeout a ton of hitters. So I’m assuming +3.0, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they accumulated +5.0 or +6.0 in the FIP-win column.

So that’s that. I’m ready to get this thing underway.

 

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