Following up on yesterday's post on the 2011 starting rotation, we'll now take a look at the Braves bullpen situation. The 'pen was a definite strength of the team this season and despite the retirement of future-Hall of Fame closer Billy Wagner, there's much promise for another solid season from the relivers in 2011.
Assuming these 5 pitchers (who are all still under team control) will be there, Atlanta has 2 spots left to fill. Based on the numbers, both should probably be righties. I think Cristhian Martinez performed well enough to earn a spot, though Stephen Marek had a tremendous season at Mississippi/Gwinnett, so I’d be more than comfortable with him as well. That decision could very well come down to Spring Training performance. I would expect/hope Scott Proctor not to be signed again. That leaves one spot left. Takashi Saito’s age and injuries probably rule him out. Kyle Farnsworth’s $5.25m club option for 2011 is way too much, so the Braves should buy him out at $250k. He could be a decent option at a couple million dollar price, but I don’t think the Braves go that route. So that likely means free agency. The team could use some sort of veteran late-inning/set-up presence, similar to Saito’s role this year. I would guess the Braves have about $3m to spend for this spot.
The Twins’ Jon Rauch (Type B free agent) would be a great option, but would probably be too expensive if he doesn’t stay with Minnesota. The Rays’ Dan Wheeler has a $4m club option that could be too much for Tampa Bay to afford, so he could be a target. Chicago’s J.J. Putz (Type B free agent) rebounded from his rough ’09 season and could be of use. Some less desirable cheaper possibilities could be Guillermo Mota, Aaron Heilman or Octavio Dotel. It will be interesting to see where the Braves go here. Considering the overwhelming need for an outfield bat (and the costs associated with that), the team’s propensity to go the cheaper low-profile route and all of the arms that they have coming up through the minors, I’m not expecting an exciting ‘name’ signing for that last bullpen spot.
I think Craig Kimbrel has shown he has the stuff to be the Braves closer in 2011 and I hope to see him finishing games for Atlanta. Depending who the team can sign for their veteran RHP reliever spot, I could envision Jonny Venters and said veteran RHP reliever sharing situational 8th inning set-up duties. The rest of bullpen should continue with their previous roles while the potential Martinez/Marek spot will likely serve as the long reliver.