The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Florida Marlins Pre-Spring Preview Part Two: Bullpen

The second edition of the 2005 Marlins pre-spring forecast focuses on the bullpen.

Relief Pitching
This is the single area of the team that has received the most scrutiny in the offseason. Many have pointed out that relief is likely the Marlins greatest area of weakness.

While this is true, like the case with the 5th starter, this is also the case with nearly every team in baseball. Solid relief pitching – particularly in terms of depth is hard to come by. Making the game of building a bullpen that much more difficult is that the success of relievers seems to vary greatly from year-to-year.

That said, the Marlins have been successful (to varying degrees) in acquiring relievers when needed during the stretch run. Last year at the trading deadline they acquired Guillermo Mota from the Dodgers (they also picked up Billy Koch, but we won’t speak of that). In 2003, while gearing up for a playoff push, the Fish picked up Ugeth Urbina (from the Rangers) and Chad Fox (off of waivers from the Red Sox); both were integral parts of the Marlins run to the World Series. The expectation again this year is that come June or July, assuming they’re still in the race, that the Marlins will again make some sort of a move to acquire bullpen help – even if it means parting with a high-level minor league prospect.

Still, the Marlins did some work on their bullpen in the offseason, most notably by acquiring Todd Jones, Jim Mecir, John Riedling, and Antonio Alfonseca. In addition, there’s hope that Tim Spooneybarger will be healthy again. If nothing else, Spooneybarger will bring a windfall to the last name lettering people in South Florida.

If you're looking for someone to watch and root for this spring, that person probably should be Chad Bentz. Bentz is (as far as the record books can tell) only the second major leaguer to have been raised in Alaska. He holds the state record for home runs. While that is an impressive enough accomplishment in itself, it's even more impressive when you consider that, much like former Angels pitcher Jim Abbott, Bentz was born without a right hand. So Bentz set that home run record as a high schooler just using his left hand, while using his right to guide the bat (in case you're wondering, he bats right handed). Bentz has already appeared in 36 games in his major league career. While that doesn't make him "established" technically, it does mean that he's legitimately made it at this level. What he's overcome in making it to the majors though is definitely something worth cheering for.

The Marlins bullpen is filled with live arms. There’s even the potential for a mix of lefties and righties, with Nate Bump and Matt Perisho possibly filling spots in the ‘pen. The main question is whether or not enough of these relievers will be able to contribute.

The question marks surrounding the bullpen are:
1) Who’s going to step up?

2) Which version of Antonio Alfonseca will the Marlins get this year? Marlins fans are very familiar with Alfonseca’s penchant for giving up a walk or two in a close ballgame before shutting the door and striking out the side. In 2005 the Marlins would like to see more of the striking out the side, and less of the putting two guys on before doing so.

3) Will Tim Spooneybarger be healthy?

4) How will Todd Jones handle South Florida? Todd Jones is infamously a homophobe and does not seem to be the most open minded person around. While this will most likely fly under the radar in South Florida, it may affect Jones’ ability to adjust to the overall melting pot that Miami is. This could be a non-issue, or it could be fun to watch.

5) Will the Marlins need to acquire a reliever or two around the trade deadline? Will doing so cause them to leverage too much in the way of future prospects?

The Bottom Line
The Marlins bullpen is a question mark. It is for almost every team. However, the Marlins have a plethora of arms, many of which at times have proven to be excellent major league relievers. The questions are whether they’ll get the better half of those pitchers in 2005 and if they’ll have to acquire another arm or two mid-way through the year. Additionally, the health of the starting rotation could go a long way towards making the bullpen look a lot better. Fifty extra innings each out of Burnett and Beckett is a total of 100 innings less that the Marlins will need from questionable relievers.


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