With Alex Torres Gone What Will the Padres’ Bullpen Look Like?


Yesterday, the San Diego Padres traded lefty reliever, Alex Torres, to the New York Mets in exchange for Cory Mazzoni and a player to be named later. Torres was pretty much a lock for the bullpen before being shipped out. There was already some uncertainty to who would make the pen, but now without Torres there’s even more questions.

The first question would be, what’s left of the lefties? For a majority of the season Torres was the team’s lone lefty in the bullpen. There was the brief stint with Troy Patton which ended with him getting injured and then suspended for 80 games, Robbie Erlin‘s two games out of the pen, and a late season appearance by Frank Garces. Torres and Patton are gone now and Erlin has already been sent to the minors camp and likely still viewed as a starter, so that leaves us with Garces. Scott Elbert and Chris Rearick are both with the team as non-roster invitees, but there’s likely only one spot open for a lefty and Garces has done more than enough to secure it.

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Last season Garces made 15 appearances, throwing 9 innings with an ERA of 2.00, and striking out 10. He stranded 11 of his 14 inherited runners, and 12 of his 15 outings were considered clean outings; which means he didn’t allow a run (earned or unearned) or an inherited runner to score. It’s a small sample size, but for a pitcher who had never pitched above AA, they are very encouraging. In a limited role, like a lefty specialist, someone like Garces won’t be exposed too often, so his inexperience shouldn’t be a big issue.

Even before Torres was traded, I still expected Garces to make the team out of Spring Training. It’s common convention now to carry at least two lefties in a bullpen, but last season the team had one of the best bullpens in baseball with just one lefty for a majority of the season

So outside of the lefty situation, what does the rest of the pen look like?

Joaquin Benoit is the unquestioned closer after a successful stint in the second half of last season. Alongside him in the late innings will likely be off-season acquisitions Brandon Maurer and Shawn Kelley.

I’ve seen in a couple places that some people believe that Maurer is ticketed for AAA, but that couldn’t be anything further from the truth. Maurer’s stats are very misleading when looking at them in their totality, but when just looking at his relief numbers, you’d see a dominant reliever. In 31 relief outings, 23 of them being clean, he posted a 2.17 ERA over 37 1/3 innings with a FIP of 1.85 and a K/9 of 9.16. Keeping him out of the bullpen would be a huge mistake.

The middle men of the pen is where the questions begin to arise.

Kevin Quackenbush should make the team after his great 2014 season, but with two options, he gives them some flexibility. Nick Vincent and Dale Thayer have been fixtures in the pen for the last few seasons, but new acquisitions could force one of them out. If forced to pick between the two, I would strongly lead towards Vincent.

While Thayer did have a lower ERA than Vincent in 2014, Vincent’s FIP and xFIP were significantly lower than Thayer’s; plus Vincent is six years younger. With Torres out of the fold there odds of them both making the team increased significantly though, so for now we can assume that they’ll both make the team. With Benoit, Maurer, Kelley, Quackenbush, Vincent, Thayer and Garces all in the pen, it would still leave one open spot and right now it could go to few different guys.

The first guy that could take the role is Jose Valverde. A.J. Preller told Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com that Papa Grande “has a good chance of making the team”, so that’s one point in his favor. I wrote about Valverde a couple weeks ago saying:

"“The pen is filled with guys whose fastballs sit around the low to mid 90s. Valverde says he’s still hitting 98 MPH, even though he turns 37 next week. That power could be a weapon for Bud Black, but only if Valverde can harness it correctly. Harnessing that has always been an issue for him. With a career walk rate of 3.77, pitching one inning at a time means at least one walk per inning. Earlier in his career he was able to pitch around the walks, but as his 4.46 ERA over the past three seasons suggests he’s not able to get out of those jams as much as he used to.”"

This spring has been a decent one for Valverde. In 7 2/3 innings he’s allowed five runs (four earned) while striking out eight and walking only one batter. That lone walk is an encouraging sign. Like I mentioned in my previous post, walks have been his Achilles’ heel, and if he can finally learn to manage them, he could have a bit of a career renaissance. While no one would him expect to look like he did in his Astros days, being an effective middle reliever isn’t out of the question.

A unique option could be Odrisamer Despaigne. Despaigne came out of nowhere last year after signing with the team in May and made his way through AA and AAA in the blink of an eye.  Unfortunately for OD, the signings of James Shields and Brandon Morrow will make it difficult for him to make the rotation out of camp. His devastating change-up, which batters hit just .109 off of, could make him a good fit in a bullpen role. Also, with injuries concerns for Andrew Cashner and Morrow, having him available to take a starting spot would be very useful. The only issue is this could stall his development, but with how quickly he ran through the minors, I think facing major league talent is the only way for him to continue to progress.

Potentially the favorite for this spot could be Jandel Gustave. That may come as a surprise, considering that Gustave has never pitched above A ball, but the reason he’d be the favorite to make the team, is because he has to.

He was selected by the Red Sox sixth overall in the Rule 5 draft this December. He was then traded to the Royals and claimed by the Padres off waivers. Since he was selected in the Rule 5 draft, he has to remain on a 25-man roster all season, or else he’d be returned to the Royals.

If the Padres want to keep Gustave he either needs to get hurt or remain with the team. Gustave’s a good fit for the pen because, like Valverde, he’s a power arm unlike anyone else currently in the pen. He claims to have thrown 102 mph before, and while we’ll almost certainly never see that in a game more than once or twice in a season (if at all), he will consistently be throwing around 98 mph, and that’s something that will challenge any hitter. He has had issues with walks in the minors and that’s to be expected from someone who throws as hard as he does (at 22 years old too), but his role would be pretty limited, so he won’t be overexposed.

Lastly, Cory Mazzoni, who was acquired for Alex Torres, could be a fit too.

The Mets’ 17th ranked prospect per Fangraphs, has been a starter for the majority of his career, but he could be more likely to find himself a life in the pen. Here’s what Fangraphs Kiley McDaniels had to say about the righty:

"“Mazzoni was a 2nd rounder in 2011 out of N.C. State and has worked through the system as a starter, though his ultimate MLB fit may be in relief. His 90-92 sinker is above average, hitting 94 mph as a starter with an above average slider and an inconsistent splitter that’s solid average at times: he projects as a nice back-end starter if it all comes together.  In relief, everything plays up and he sits 93-95 mph with the same life and the off-speed pitches are a notch crisper. With the deep AAA/MLB pitching staffs, Mazzoni’s 2015 big league chance is likely in relief, but the Mets still think he could stick in a rotation spot if given the chance.”"

I would imagine Mazzoni was acquired with the bullpen in mind. The Padres have a surplus of starting pitching depth and Mazzoni isn’t the kind of guy who would factor into any long term plans. He hasn’t looked great this spring and his AAA numbers, albeit in the PCL, aren’t pretty either. He may not be in a position to make the team out of camp, but if any of the others fail, he could be the best option for the Padres.

What are your predictions for the Padres bullpen now that Torres is gone? Lets discuss in the comments below.

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