With less than two weeks until Opening Day, one of the only uncertainties that remain is the construction of the seven-man bullpen.
President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi did an excellent job over the course of the offseason adding relievers with high-upside and ensuring lots of competition during Spring Training.
With Kenley Jansen beginning the season on the disabled list as he recovers from left foot surgery and Brandon League likely joining him with continued shoulder inflammation, there are plenty of spots up for grab.
While many cuts have already been made, there is still an excessive amount of relievers that remain in camp. Let’s analyze some potential candidates for the 2015 bullpen.
J.P. Howell – Howell, 32 in April, has been a mainstay in the Dodgers bullpen for the previous two seasons. From 2013-2014, he’s posted a 2.19 ERA and 3.07 FIP in 111 innings, making him one of manager Don Mattingly’s most reliable set-up men for the eighth inning. After suffering through brief groin muscle tightness earlier in March, he is back on track pitching in Cactus League games and should be good to go for Opening Day. His 9.64 ERA in 4.2 innings this spring might seem alarming, but he is simply just working on mechanics and movement on pitches.
Joel Peralta – Peralta, acquired last November from the Tampa Bay Rays, posted a 4.41 ERA in 2014, but that number doesn’t tell the whole story.
His peripherals (3.11 xFIP, 4.93 K/BB, 1.18 WHIP) indicate that he pitched much better than his ERA shows, and moving from the AL East to the NL West should only help his cause.
Like Howell and League, Peralta also dealt with an injury earlier this spring; for his case, it was right shoulder discomfort. Since then, he has appeared in multiple Cactus League games and appears to be progressing well enough where he won’t need to open the season on the disabled list. In four innings, he’s allowed just two runs while posting an even 1.00 WHIP.
David Huff and Chad Gaudin – For Huff and Gaudin’s case, they are non-roster invitees with Major League experience and typically have low odds to make the roster.
However, both have pitched extraordinarily well this spring to be considered for a spot (Huff, 1 ER in 8.2 IP; Gaudin, 2 ER in 6 IP). With Hyun-Jin Ryu being shut down for the next two weeks, there is a good chance one of these two will occupy his vacancy in the rotation until he is fully healthy again, barring a late trade made by the front office.
Dustin McGowan – After spending seven seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles inked McGowan to a one-year deal in late-February. Having struggled as a starter in 2014 (5.08 ERA in 39 innings), the Blue Jays transitioned him to the bullpen, in which he posted a 3.35 ERA in 43 innings.
His versatility is appealing, but he hasn’t looked all that sharp this spring (four ER in six IP; 1.50 WHIP). Since his deal is only for the minimum, the Dodgers can easily release him, if necessary.
Juan Nicasio – Like McGowan, Nicasio is a former starter-turned-reliever who found new success pitching out of the bullpen. Last season for the Colorado Rockies, he produced a 5.92 ERA in 73 innings as a starter, but pitched to a solid 3.48 ERA in 20.2 innings as a reliever. So far in seven innings pitched this spring, he’s allowed four earned runs (5.14 ERA) and struck out nine, while walking none.
If the Dodgers choose between the two, Nicasio presumably has the advantage, as he’s younger and still arbitration-eligible through 2017.
David Aardsma – Aardsma last saw MLB time in 2013 for the New York Mets, but pitched well for the Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals last season, posting a 1.29 ERA in 35 innings. In six innings this spring, he’s allowed just two runs while boasting a sub-1.00 WHIP (0.83).
Mike Adams – Once the game’s most dominant set-up man for the San Diego Padres, Adams has struggled with injuries over the past two seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. Still, he’s pitched fairly well for them when healthy, totaling a 3.50 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 43.2 innings from 2013-2014. In 2.2 innings this spring, he’s given up three earned runs while allowing six total baserunners.
Sergio Santos – After a terrific 2011 season in which he saved 30 games for the Chicago White Sox, Santos struggled with injuries and inconsistency during his tenure with the Toronto Blue Jays from 2012-2014.
He is finally healthy again and arguably has the best chance amongst the other non-roster invitees to make the team. In six innings this spring, his ERA is just 1.50 and his WHIP is a meager 0.83. His mechanics have improved, as he’s walking less batters and striking out more with excellent command of his pitches.
CONTINUE READING: Check out the middle relief competition & Opening Day prediction