The 2009 Bullpen - What are we starting with?

So, barring a change of plans, Salomon Torres is gone and the Brewers are not planning to pursue a high-profile free agent reliever like Francisco Rodriguez or Brian Fuentes.

Salomon Torres, who saved 28 games for the Crew last season, retired yesterday. Brian Shouse, Eric Gagne and Guillermo Mota are free agents and might not be back.

Assuming Doug Melvin's comments linked above mean he also won't want to risk big money on Kerry Wood, Japanese import Koji Uehara or Trevor Hoffman, that might mean the Brewers are headed into 2009 with a bullpen that's tweaked around the edges, if it gets modified at all. Let's take a look at what that might mean for the Brewers in 2009:

CANDIDATES FOR CLOSER:

Seth McClung: I'm not sure if all Brewer fans love Seth McClung or if the infatuation is limited to this corner of the internet. But when Grant Balfour was 0-2 with a 20.25 ERA in his first three outings as a Brewer, if Doug Melvin had publicly said, "I'm going to flip him to Tampa for a guy that'll throw 105 slightly above average innings next season," we might have thrown the Mustache a parade. McClung has the stuff to make hitters look overmatched when he's on. If he's not needed in the rotation, he might be the best fit to close.

2008, as a reliever: 25 G, 41.2 IP, 3.67 ERA, 26 BB, 37 K
Career, as a reliever: 87 G, 109.1 IP, 5.19 ERA, 80 BB, 93 K

Carlos Villanueva: Got an opportunity to start in 2008, but did not perform well. When reverted to the bullpen he showed improvement the rest of the way. Villy has said in the past that he'd prefer to start, but he's much more valuable to the Crew in the bullpen, and one would suspect that getting high profile innings as the closer of a good team might be exciting for him too.

2008, as a reliever: 38 G, 59.1 IP, 2.12 ERA, 14 BB, 62 K
Career, as a reliever: 95 G, 155.2 IP, 3.58 ERA, 52 BB, 149 K

David Riske:  After getting a long-term deal after the 2007 season, Riske had an injury riddled and ineffective 2008 season that I'm sure most of you will remember. A lot can change in a year...a year ago at this time we were talking about David Riske as the setup man for Derrick Turnbow. 2008 aside, though, Riske had been very consistent throughout most of his eight year career before coming to Milwaukee, posting an ERA+ over 115 in six of his last seven seasons, over 190 in three of the same seven. If he comes into spring training healthy, he could be ready to bounce back in a big way.

2008, as a reliever: 45 G, 42.1 IP, 5.31 ERA, 25 BB, 27 K
Career, as a reliever: 438 G, 473.1 IP, 3.57 ERA, 204 BB, 425 K

OTHERS THAT WILL LIKELY CONTRIBUTE:

Mitch Stetter: As things stand right now, he's the only lefty I see with a guaranteed spot in the bullpen, and even that guarantee isn't 100%. I don't think one can hope for Stetter to be as effective as Shouse was, but if Shouse returns, having Stetter and Shouse in the bullpen could give Ken Macha lots of opportunity to play matchups late in games. Stetter's walk numbers from 2008 are inflated by three outings in May where he was left out to hang and walked 8 batters in an inning.

2008, as a reliever: 30 G, 25.1 IP, 3.20 ERA, 19 BB, 31 K
Career, as a reliever: 36 G, 30.1 IP, 3.26 ERA, 21 BB, 35 K

Tim Dillard: The Brewers didn't use Tim Dillard a lot in 2008 (just 14.1 innings), and they didn't use him often in wins (3-10 record in his appearances), but when they did use him he didn't embarrass himself. Dillard led off his big league career with five scoreless outings where he only allowed one hit and two walks in 5.2 innings, and he only had one outing all season where he gave up more than one earned run. Not once in my life have I said "Oh good, Tim Dillard's coming in." But with that said, he was only slightly below league average (ERA+ of 98) in his games this season, and if the Brewers released him he could be on about 15-20 teams' rosters on Opening Day.

2008 (and career) as a reliever: 13 G, 14.1 IP, 4.40 ERA, 6 BB, 5 K

Todd Coffey: Seemingly an afterthought when Doug Melvin picked him up, Coffey threw 7.1 scoreless innings over nine appearances as a Brewer in 2008, dropping his 2008 ERA from 6.05 as a Red to 4.39 overall, which is close to his career mark of 4.46. For some reason, I thought he was much older: Coffey turned 28 in September. He's had two above average and two below average seasons in his career, but even the below average seasons were disappointments, not implosions. He can contribute to a staff somewhere, if not in Milwaukee.

2008 as a reliever: 26 G, 26.2 IP, 4.39 ERA, 8 BB, 15 K
Career as a reliever: 222 G, 213.2 IP, 4.46 ERA, 65 BB, 144 K

Mark DiFelice: DiFelice made his big league debut at age 31 in May, and his debut didn't suggest he'd stay long: DiFelice gave up three runs on five hits in an inning in one of the losses during the Brewers' disastrous sweep in Boston that was supposed to cost Ned Yost his job. After that, all DiFelice did was post a 1.50 ERA in 18 innings over his next 14 appearances. Like Dillard, he didn't pitch in a lot of Brewer wins (the team was 4-11 in his appearances), but he pitched effectively when called upon. And while he made his debut at 31 and turned 32 in August, he's still likely got a few seasons in the tank, if not more.

2008 (and career) as a reliever: 15 G, 19 IP, 2.84 ERA, 4 BB, 20 K

OTHERS THAT COULD BE CALLED UPON:

It's worth noting that at this point, without re-signing Shouse, Gagne or Mota, without Torres unretiring and without any free agent additions to the bullpen, the Brewers have 7 relievers and, assuming a five-man rotation, 12 pitchers overall. But if they need more, these guys are waiting for a shot:

Joe Bateman: A 28-year-old righty, Bateman tripped somewhere on the ladder to the big leagues and spent 2 years in AA with the Giants before splitting this season between AA and AAA with the Brewers, despite the fact that he's posted an ERA under 3 each of the last two seasons and posted a 1.60 ERA in 33.2 innings in half a season in Nashville in 2008. He's struck out 200 and only walked 66 over 175.2 innings over the last three seasons. This winter, he's pitching for Este in the Dominican Winter League, and is 3-0 with a 3.21 ERA in 14 innings.

Chris Narveson: Last spring, he didn't miss making the Brewer roster by all that much, and made Doug Melvin comfortable enough to cut the cord on Claudio Vargas. Narveson will come into camp at 27 years old and, despite having a disappointing season in AAA (6-13, 5.43 ERA in 136 innings, primarily as a starter), he could get a shot to reinvent himself as a lefty who throws strikes out of the bullpen. Narveson has walked just 168 hitters over his last 406.2 innings over four seasons in AAA, and struck out 311 in that time. And did I mention he's left handed? Narveson is spending the winter pitching for Hermosillo in Mexico, where he recently picked up his second straight win, and is 2-2 with a 3.67 ERA in 34.1 innings (6 starts).

Luis Pena: In 2007, Pena climbed the ladder quickly, going 5-4 with a 2.63 ERA and 18 saves between Brevard County and Huntsville and earning himself a promotion to Nashville for 2008. He struggled with the Pacific Coast League, though, going 2-3 with a 6.93 ERA in 49.1 innings in 2008. Pena's meteoric rise in 2007 followed two seasons with an ERA over 4 in Brevard County, so it's possible his 2007 season was an aberration and not a trend. But it's also possible he could put it back together in 2008 and emerge as a contributor. He's spending the winter pitching for La Guaira in Venezuela, but has only appeared in three of the team's 23 games.

Sam Narron: Stop me if you've heard this one before: Narron is a 27-year-old lefty who has taken a little longer to develop than expected. He had a meteoric rise through the Rangers' organization, culminating in a 2004 season in which he went 6-0 in AA, 8-2 in AAA and made one start for the Rangers. After the season, the Brewers picked him up off waivers and Tommy John surgery cost him the entire 2005 season. Narron has worked his way back up the ladder and spent much of 2008 in AAA, where he struggled a bit to adjust and posted a 4.80 ERA in 120 innings. Like Joe Bateman, Narron is pitching for Este in the Dominican Winter League (Narron is starting, Bateman is relieving). So far he hasn't had much success in winter ball, going 0-3 with a 7.82 ERA in 12.2 innings, but again: he's still only 27, and he's lefthanded.

With those four, the Brewers will bring 11 potential bullpen arms to spring training, plus any free agents they may sign or re-sign. I don't think this bullpen is going to be as bad as some are saying it will be. What do you think?

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