Figuring Out This Bullpen

Before we get into the business of breaking down the possible makeup of the 2010 bullpen, a bit of news: Mark DiFelice, who was non-tendered over the weekend, agreed to a minor league contract with the Crew so he can rehab with the team’s trainers with eyes set on the 2011 season. Considering similar arrangements the past couple seasons with Chris Capuano, the move probably doesn’t come as a surprise (I for one, was expecting it, but I can’t speak for others). DiFelice will make $100,000 in the deal while he rehabs…here’s to hoping he’s back to baffling righties with his cutter again in 2011. His backstory is just too good for his career to end this way.

Turning our attention to members of the bullpen who will be able to pitch next season, it appears — for better or worse — that the Brewers are going to be spending some major coin on the bullpen.

According to Cot’s Contracts, the Brewers will spend $15.5 million alone on three relievers: Trevor Hoffman ($7.5M), David Riske ($4.5M), and LaTroy Hawkins ($3.5M). Add in the unknown total Claudio Vargas will be making once his deal is finalized and the arbitration cases of Todd Coffey and Carlos Villanueva, and a significant chunk of the Brewers’ 2010 budget will be tied up in relievers.

For a team that’s already thumping its head on the ceiling of what it can afford in terms of payroll, it’s certainly a big risk to take. Relief pitchers are one of, if not the, most unpredictable commodity in the game. With concerns about small sample sizes, you never really know what you’re going to get (the exception being elite closers, but even they are overpaid for what they provide). Case in point: David Riske seemed like a pretty solid signing at the time, but caught a severe case of Jeffrey Hammonds-itis shortly into his Brewers tenure and hasn’t been able to justify his deal.

But like I said, like it or not, we’re going to have to live with it. So who’s making up what’s sure to be another busy bullpen in 2010?

We already know that Hoffman, Riske, and Hawkins will be locks to make the roster due to their contracts. Whether or not Riske is ready for the start of the season — the beat writers noted earlier this week that he may be ready for Spring Training, but to the untrained eye that seems like pushing it. Still, let’s assume that Riske tries to pitch to start the season, and a 12-man pitching staff. Add in the bullpen’s three multi-millionaires and the pitching staff is already up to eight. Coffey and Villanueva seem to be safe, considering they were tendered contracts — that’s ten. You have to figure the Brewers wouldn’t be bringing Vargas back if they didn’t want him on the 2010 roster — he makes eleven. That leaves one spot remaining.

To recap, these are the safe bets:

Starters
1. RHP Yovani Gallardo
2. LHP Randy Wolf
3. RHP Dave Bush
4. LHP Manny Parra
5. RHP Jeff Suppan

Bullpen
RHP Trevor Hoffman
RHP LaTroy Hawkins
RHP Todd Coffey
LHP Mitch Stetter
RHP Carlos Villanueva
RHP Claudio Vargas

Those left battling for that last spot: LHP Chris Narveson, LHP Chuck Lofgren, RHP Chris Smith, RHP John Axford, RHP Tim Dillard.

Of those, Narveson is out of options and Lofgren will have to make the roster or be sent back to Cleveland, and considering that they’re both lefties, they may be battling for the same spot — a left-handed long relief/spot starter spot. Even if Riske can’t start the season on the active roster, it’s hard to imagine both making the roster. If I had to guess, I would think the Brewers would choose to keep Narveson over Lofgren. They got a glimpse of what Narveson can do last September, and while it’s always dangerous to make decisions based on performances made in the last month of the season, Narveson does have a better track record than Lofgren, who’s struggled to pitch well above Double A.

Other considerations to make: what happens if the Brewers add another big league starter? Let’s not worry about A.J. Murray, who will start the year in Nashville’s rotation, or Mark Mulder, who won’t be ready to pitch in the majors by Opening Day. What happens if Doug Melvin finds the money for a Doug Davis, or swings a trade by sending away one of his bats? Unless Melvin manages to find a suitor for Jeff Suppan, it looks like Manny Parra or Dave Bush could be moved to the bullpen (if not taken off the 25-man man completely).

Overall, not a great pitching staff, but the rotation should at least be improved. Whether or not the bullpen can repeat its heroic effort — this team doesn’t finish with 80 wins without great years from Hoffman, Coffey, and Stetter — is up for debate (and probably doubtful). What are your thoughts on the outlook for this bullpen, or the pitching staff in general?

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