There are several big questions facing the Padres in regards to the final construction of their bullpen for 2012.
Manager Bud Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley are looking for a fifth starter in the rotation, a decision that will also decide who will start the season as a long reliever in the bullpen. Dustin Moseley, Anthony Bass and new comer Micah Owings are are all candidates for the final spot in the rotation and one of them will end up with the consolation prize: an all expense paid trip to the bullpen.
Moseley and Owings stand the best chance of being on the opening day roster due to their experience. Bass is a promising, young player but could benefit from more seasoning in the minors.
Another decision that will have to be made is who will step into a specialist role in the seventh inning. Former Rockies and A's closer Huston Street replaces Heath Bell as closer and Luke Gregerson will resume the eighth inning role he inherited when Mike Adams was traded to the Rangers last July.
Gregerson struggled at times in 2011, but finished strong converting 11-12 hold opportunities after Adams' departure.
The seventh inning job could go to Ernesto Frieri or Andrew Cashner, who was acquired in the trade that sent Anthony Rizzo to the Cubs.
Like Gregerson, Frieri had his ups and downs in 2011 but finished the season strong with a 2.71 ERA.
Cashner missed most of 2011 with a rotator cuff injury but posted a 1.69 ERA in his seven appearances. If he can stay healthy and control his 100 mile-per-hour fastball, Cashner could even push Gregerson for the eighth inning job.
Left-handers Joe Thatcher and Josh Spence should round out the bullpen.
Thatcher has battled injuries and consistency the past few seasons but has generally served as the only left-handed option out of the bullpen.
Spence saw his first major league action last year and fared well with a 2.71 ERA in 40 appearances. Spence gives manager Bud Black a second option out of the bullpen when facing tough left-handed hitters in the late innings.
The biggest question regarding the Padres bullpen in 2012 is who will close games when Huston Street is on the disabled list?
Street missed nearly four months due to injuries over the past two seasons with the Rockies. The Padres have been spoiled by closers Heath Bell and Trevor Hoffman who have combined to save 334 games and spent a total of zero days on the disabled list since Petco Park opened in 2004.
If Street does get hurt, Gregerson, Cashner and Frieri would all be candidates for the ninth inning. Street is also scheduled to make $9 million in 2013 unless the Padres exercise the $500,000 buyout.
With the Padres limited budget and Streets history of injuries, anyone who get's a chance to fill-in at closer could be auditioning for a permanent role in 2013.