Friday, March 23, 2007

Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble...

Chris from Redleg Nation posted this question regarding my "Wither Denorfia" post:
Are they going with 12 pitchers for certain?

That is certainly the question. I predicated my analysis in that post on the assumption that the Reds would be carrying seven relievers. But my assumption is just that - an assumption. Divining the 2007 contents of the witch's brew that is the Reds bullpen - even a week before opening day - is no easy task. That said, let's try it anyway.

On February 23rd Jerry Narron said he would like to go with an 11 man staff. Specifically he said (regarding having several versatile position players):
"It helps a great deal and it may even help at some point that we can go with 11 pitchers instead of 12," Narron said. "I know that everybody thinks we're going to carry 12, and it probably looks that way. But if we can keep as many versatile guys as we can, maybe we can possibly go to 11."

While I agree in theory, I have a hard time seeing this carried to fruition. For all of the optimism we have as Reds fans we aren't the Twins, Angels, or even the Braves. Our bullpen just isn't that good. Krivsky has worked (a little too) diligently to cobble together a decent combination of young guns with potential and veterans that were the mid 1990s. But as it stands Narron isn't going to have enough reliable options to only carry six relievers. There's going to be lots of mixing and matching Reds fans.

Let's take a look at the pitchers that have a shot at making the 25-man roster. As of this posting the Reds have 16 pitchers on the active roster and Victor Santos & Dustin Hermanson as non-roster invitees. All of them have a shot. Conveniently, they can also be lumped into categories for analysis.

[Locked-In Starters: Harang, Arroyo, Lohse, Milton]

These four will make up the top of the rotation. I'm not particularly happy about that, but we've made our bed so-to-speak. Someone with a brain the size of a quark decided a $9.8 million dollar extreme fly-ball pitcher would be a good idea in a bandbox ballpark with a defensive outfield made up of two rhinos and a gazelle that likes to run into walls. I have snot smart enough to realize that was a bad idea. But hey, it is what it is.

[Potential Fifth Starters: Saarloos, Belisle, Ramirez, Livingston, Santos]

One of these guys will get the spot out of the gate, but there's a chance most of them could see some rotation time throughout the year. Spring training has been an audition for these guys, so let's see how it's been going:

Saarloos (11.1 IP, 6.35 ERA)
Santos - (10.2, 0.00)
Livingston - (9.2, 1.86)
Belisle - (9.0, 1.00)
Ramirez - (5.0, 1.80)

What does this tell us? Not much. 1) It's spring training. 2) There is very little differentiation in the numbers (almost). Of these five names Livingston is the only one without any major league starting experience. Because of this I'd expect him to wind up in Louisville to start the year - though he has the potential to be the best of the bunch. Saarloos has likely pitched himself into the bullpen. I don't see him being cut because of his experience and contract ($1.2 million). Ramirez is likely to start the year in Triple-A according to John Fay - he's had shoulder issues. Santos has pitched well this spring and has 84 career starts. Unfortunately those starts have all been pretty bad. Reds fans shouldn't weep when he's cut, despite his spring. That leaves Belisle as the last man standing and your likely candidate for the 5th spot coming out of the gate.

[Locked In Relievers: Weathers, Stanton, Cormier, Coffey, Bray]

Combined Stanton, Weathers, and Cormier are making $6.5 million in 2007. They're all old. They're all experienced. They have the biggest contracts. I know a contract doesn't guarantee you a spot on the 25-man, but no GM wants to look like they made a bad deal. Those guys will likely have to pitch themselves out of a roster spot. They'll all make the team for Opening Day. Coffey sprints to the mound. He'll make the team. Bray may have the best stuff of the bunch and has pitched well so far this spring. He'll make the team. Yes Virginia, there are three lefty's in the pen.

[Not-So-Locked-In Relievers: Burton, Coutlangus, Majewski, Hermanson]

By all accounts Burton has a great arm, but the only way the Reds can keep him is if he stays on the 25-man roster. With all the competition I just don't see that happening. Frankly, I'd rather have cheap-with-potential than expensive-and-old. Based on his spring (6.1 IP, 2.84 ERA, 3 BB, 9 K), age, and ability Burton deserves a spot. He just won't get it. Coutlangus has been lights out this spring (5.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 2 BB, 5 K), but I doubt it will get him anywhere. He's yet another lefty on a team that already has three pretty well locked in. At 26 he's pitched 144 minor league innings with a 2.88 ERA and a .213 BAA. There just isn't much else for him to prove. That said, only 3 of those innings were at the Triple-A level. Expect him to start the season in Louisville. Majewski pitched a bullpen session on Saturday, but is still having some arm trouble. John Fay says he'll likely start the year on the DL. I expect him to be pitching for the Reds at some point this year though. Hermanson has seemingly been anointed the new closer - still riding the waves of his 2005. As I wrote when we signed him, he's a good low-risk/high-potential-reward kind of guy. If he can harness some of his 2005 we're golden. If he pitches along his career line we're only out $500,000. The back problem is scary, but doesn't seem to have affected him this spring. He'll make the team's 25-man roster.

[Cliff Notes]

Based on my count that's a 12-man pitching staff:

1) Harang
2) Arroyo
3) Lohse
4) Milton
5) Belisle
6) Saarloos
7) Weathers
8) Stanton
9) Cormier
10) Coffey
11) Bray
12) Hermanson

Belisle and Saarloos could easily be starters 5A and 5B. The front office will likely not part with their higher priced veterans (Weathers, Stanton, Cormier). Coffey and Bray have both proven themselves with this club already. Hermanson has been anointed closer without really earning it.

Burton is a wildcard. The Reds thought enough of him to make him a Rule 5 pick. They knew that he'd have to make the 25-man roster. There's a chance he could stick. If he does I'd expect either Cormier or Stanton to be dropped. They're nearly identical pitchers. I just don't see that happening.

I'm not saying that these are the best options we've got. But it's likely what we'll see. If you have an argument to the contrary please, by all means, make it.

So to answer the initial question: Yes, I expect the Reds to carry 12 pitchers.

Edit: This all lines up with what Mark Sheldon guessed in this Reds Mailbag article.

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