This is the second of a series of posts previewing the 2013 Philadelphia Phillies prior to the start of Spring Training.
Last December, Ruben Amaro, Jr. made a big splash early in free agency, landing the top closer on the market in Jonathan Papelbon with the intent of shortening games to eight innings. It was perceived by many as a questionable, if not reckless decision by the GM, given the success of Ryan Madson as the Phillies closer in 2011, and other proven closers available including Heath Bell, Francisco Rodriguez, & Francisco Cordero. In hindsight, Amaro made a wise choice, as Madson blew out his elbow in March, Bell faltered in Miami, Cordero finished with an ERA over 7 and K-Rod tallied on 3 saves in a bullpen that was so bad, the Brewers only retained two of its members for 2013.
Beyond Paps, though, the bullpen was a nightly game of roulette for Charlie Manuel, not knowing which arm might bridge the gap to the quirky-but-talented former Red Sox. But it also proved to be a useful education to prepare for 2013, as Manuel and Rich Dubee got a look at a bunch of young and talented—if not unpredictable—arms. That group includes southpaws Jeremy Horst, Jake Diekman and Joe Savery and righthanders Michael Schwimer, BJ Rosenberg, Phillippe Aumont and Justin De Fratus. Veteran lefty Raul Valdes also joined the party—and outpitched almost every single one of them. Righty Michael Stutes was supposed to join Bastardo in the 7th and 8th innings, but missed most of the season with arm fatigue.All of these youngsters will look to join Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo and free agent Mike Adams in the Phillies bullpen. Bastardo and Adams will likely split the 7th and 8th innings depending on lefty/righty matchups, though I’d expect to mostly see Bastardo in the 7th and Adams in the 8th.
If these young guns want to join the bullpen on Opening Day, they’ll have to fight not only each other, but also minor league free agents Juan Cruz, Aaron Cook, Rodrigo Lopez, Zach Miner & Cesar Jimenez for likely just four remaining spots.
Based off of 2012 performances, I’d peg Horst, Schwimer, Aumont & Valdes as the four favorites, with Stutes, De Fratus & Diekman all significant possibilities. An impressive spring from Tyler Cloyd could also throw him into the mix a la Kyle Kendrick, circa 2011.
Manuel and Dubee should feel good about their bullpen options heading to Clearwater. Whether they wind up feeling optimism or odgeda will depend on if these promising young arms can show consistency—something many of them lacked last season. If the Phillies can establish their bullpen within the first month of the season, they’ll be in good shape to reclaim the NL East title in 2013. However, if they’re shuffling pieces right up to September call-ups like last year, it will be another long summer for the city of Philadelphia.