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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Mulliniks’ Moustache #8 – The Bench; The Bullpen

A baseball team’s bench and bullpen are inexplicably and intrinsically linked. Backup position players and (in essence) backup pitchers. In many people’s brains, the bench and bullpen are mere afterthoughts. In reality, though, they play a large part in the fortunes of baseball teams.

Hell, even when a manager throws in the towel and calls on a position player to pitch an inning of mop-up duty during particularly terrible blowouts, he usually calls on a bench player (Jose Canseco notwithstanding) to ply his new trade and float batting-practice-perfected knuckleballs at seasoned major league hitters.

A major league baseball team’s bench is a motley crew of three to five not-quite-everyday-players that spend most of the season seated on – you guessed it – the bench, just waiting for a slow runner to get on base late in the game, or for an everyday player to require a sporadic day off.

We’re motoring towards the end of Spring Training, so as of this point, the 2014 Blue Jays version of The Bench is looking as such:
  1. Back-up catcher (RA Dickey’s best friend Eric Kratz)
  2. Back-up infielder (the Blue Jays $3-million man Maicer Izturis)
  3. Back-up outfielder (out-of-options Moises Sierra)
That’s it. No veteran guys off the bench with some pop (like Dan Johnson), no “rah-rah-type” energy guys to keep the team loose (like Munenori Kawasaki), no speedsters to depend on to steal a ninth-inning base (like Rajai Davis), no late-inning defensive dynamos (like Omar Vizquel), no veteran leadership players (like Mark Derosa). In short, a very sad, young, inexperienced, lean bench.

The reason for this less-than-ideal bench make-up? The bullpen. The size of the bullpen directly impacts the bench, and in essence dictates how many bench players a team will be able to carry on their 25-man major league roster. Some crazy teams, like the Blue Jays appear to be doing (at least to start the season) have eight-man bullpens. More conventional teams, feature seven-man bullpens, and most deep, championship-calibre teams with five healthy starters who can be expected to go six or seven innings on a regular basis should be able to function with a six-man bullpen broken down as such:

Closer (BJE*: Casey Janssen)
Set-up man (BJE: Sergio Santos)
Lefty Specialist (BJE: Brett Cecil)
Long-man (BJE: Esmil Rogers)
Random Reliever (BJE: Aaron Loup)
Random Reliever (BJE: Steve Delabar)
(*BJE = Blue Jay Equivalent)

The Blue Jays, of course, will feature two extra, utterly superfluous “Random Relievers”. And why is that? No, as you may be thinking, it’s not necessarily because of the Blue Jays lack of quality starting pitching depth, what messes everything up for the Blue Jays is their overabundance of “Out of Options” players. What does “Out of Options” mean? Well, thank you for asking! It means that in order to send certain players down to AAA Buffalo, these players will have to be passed through waivers, which will allow any team to claim them, ensuring the Blue Jays lose them and will get nothing in return. (For a detailed explanation of “options”, please scroll below).

General Manager Alex Anthopoulous has historically been utterly unwilling to give up these players. I can see his hesitance to a degree, but these players have been given multiple chances to stick and become serviceable major league players, to no avail. There comes a point when a player simply is the player they appear to be. Jeremy Jeffress is a rocket-armed righty with awful control. As much as we all love him and are pulling for him, Dustin McGowan is injury-prone and can’t be depended on for a full season. Todd Redmond is, well, Todd Redmond.

The out of option players on the 2014 Blue Jays* are: the aforementioned Jeffress, McGowan and Redmond, plus Brett Cecil, Luis Perez, Esmil Rogers, Sergio Santos and Moises Sierra. Cecil, Rogers, Santos and Sierra are virtual locks for the team; Perez is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, so he’ll probably be put on the Disabled List to start the season. Whether they’re deserving or not, that leaves three pitchers to occupy the final two spots – Jeffress, McGowan and Redmond. *Source: http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2014/03/out-of-options-players-al-east.html

Who will be the last two standing is open to debate, but from where I stand, McGowan is a lock. Despite his well-documented  injuries, he’s a proven major league pitcher with some of the best “stuff” on the Blue Jays staff. So how do the Blue Jays decide between Jeffress and Redmond? I cannot imagine two more polar opposite pitchers. Here’s what I say: walks are killers, especially for relievers, and it never hurts to have another potential starter sitting in the bullpen, so I say they keep Redmond. I can’t believe I just said I think they should give up on a pitcher who throws 99 miles-per-hour for a career minor-leaguer with middling stuff, but it’s the only thing that makes sense. Maybe Jeffress can put it together with another organization.

And one final note: when you think about it, considering the Blue Jays are using “options” (or the lack thereof) as a way to form their roster, how prescient is it that the acronym for “Out of Option Players” works out to “OOOPs”?

Boring Explanation of “Options”
A common misconception, based on the phrase, "out of options," is that a player may only be moved between the major and minor leagues a restricted number of times. On the contrary, a player has a finite number of option years in which he may be moved between the major and minor leagues an unlimited number of times. If a player is on the 40-man roster but not on the active major league roster, he is said to be on optional assignment—his organization may freely move him between the major league club and the minor league club. The rules for this are as follows. (In all cases, an assignment of a player on a major-league disabled list to the minors while on a rehabilitation assignment does not count as time spent in the minors.)
  • Once a player has been placed on a team's 40-man roster, a team has 3 option years on that player.
·         A player is considered to have used one of those three option years when he spends at least 20 days in the minors in any of those 3 seasons.

·                     A team may have a fourth option year on a player with less than five full seasons of professional experience, provided that both conditions are met below.
1.     A player has not spent at least 90 days on an active professional roster in a season. Minor leagues that play below Class A Advanced have seasons that are shorter than 90 days, and as such, any player who spends a full season in a rookie or Class A (short-season) league will receive a fourth option year.
2.     A player has not spent at least 60 days on an active professional roster AND then at least 30 days on a disabled list in a season. Only after 60 days have been spent on an active professional roster does time spent on the disabled list count towards the 90-day threshold. As with the prior example, this cannot occur with players who spend a full season in a rookie or Class A (short season) league.

Once all of the options have been used up on a player, a player is considered "out of options" and a player must be placed on and clear waivers prior to being sent down to the minor leagues. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_League_Baseball_transactions

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