Throughout the Jack Zduriencik era, the bullpen had been one of the most stable, flowing pipelines of talent coming up through AAA. Zduriencik’s regime managed to produce very good, at times dominant, bullpen arms out of thin air. Ironic that in the end it was the bullpen that cost the man his job. In 2015, the Mariners deployed one of the worst bullpens in the American League. Quite a surprise considering the 2014 version, which for all intents and purposes included the same personnel, was one of the best bullpens in the game.
So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that if you take a look at the 40-man roster right now, Charlie Furbush and Vidal Nuno and are the only regular hold overs from last year’s bullpen. Dipoto has not only dealt away last season’s under performers, but he has also shipped off some of its better arms including Tom Wilhelmsen and Carson Smith. The Mariners bullpen will sport an entirely different look come 2016 and the majority of the new additions are, for better or worse, relative unknowns.
Studying the roster, the only locks for next season would appear to be Steve Cishek, Joaquin Benoit, and Charlie Furbush. Outside of those three, there are four other slots for these 13 other men:
Now, you’ll notice that I included Paxton and Karns in this list. One of Paxton and Karns is going to be in the rotation, and while both have options, there are scenarios in which they both could stick with the pen when heading up north from Peoria. Considering that both pitchers have options, I do not find this to be the most likely scenario. But a scenario it is nonetheless thus their inclusion on the list. Of the other 11 members exactly five are left over from the previous regime, with exactly none being household names.
So let’s make some assumptions here. The Mariners will likely go with two lefties in the rotation and two in the pen. Let’s also assume that Karns will start the season in AAA and that Paxton will begin the season in the rotation. This will leave a three-way battle for the last lefty slot between Nuno-Rollins-Montgomery. Nuno, currently has the best shot to earn that role. However, if Montgomery can come in and prove that he is a worthwhile weapon in the ‘pen, he may receive the invite up north as he is the only lefty out of options. This leaves Rollins the most likely candidate to start the season in the minors and will assuredly have to put together a rather impressive spring in order to move to the forefront of Servais’s shortlist. The righty situation isn’t nearly as simple to map out. Assuming Karns begins the year in AAA, that leaves nine righties battling for the remaining three spots. The simplest option is to stash Bass in AAA to start the season. Bass is a swing option in that he can relieve or start. So while he provides a certain level of flexibility as a starter, that flexibility is also being brought by Nuno. Does the team really need both? Not necessarily. However, if the team really likes what they see in Bass as a reliever, they could potentially squeeze him onto the roster and push one of Zych, De Fratus, or Scribner off. The Mariners handed Justin De Fratus a major league deal and seem to really covet relievers who don’t issue the free pass, something in which Scribner excels. That doesn’t even begin to cover Zych, who was nothing short of spectacular during his September cup-o-coffee. Aro, Martin, Schugel, and Guaipe are also strong candidates to start the season in Tacoma along with Bass. So, best guess the Mariners bullpen will map out something like this:
So, what should we expect from this group? Didn’t you read my entry paragraph! Bullpens are volatile and unpredictable, so instead let’s just say this: the Mariners will hold their bullpen to a different set of standards next season. The team now has multiple options. Extended struggles this season will likely result in loss of job, role, and/or a demotion to the minors. The team has a pretty decent stash of relievers to pluck from now, and that could continue to add to it as minor league deals with spring training invites start to roll in. This pen is unlikely to be as good as the 2014 wrecking crew the Mariners deployed, but it doesn’t have to be. With the starting rotation shaping up to be one of the best in the American league, this pen just needs to hold leads. If they can do that, things will be just fine.