The 2008 Phillies bullpen may have been the strongest part of the team. They ate up innings in the form of Clay Condrey and Chad Durbin. Scott Eyre and J.C. Romero tiptoed their ways through tough innings. And Lidge and Madson, well their work speaks for itself.
The 2008 version of the bullpen set the bar high with a 3.19 ERA for the season, which was the lowest in the National League. Their 1.79 and 1.54 ERA figures in the playoffs and World Series respectively are also nothing to scoff at. Add in five postseason wins on the biggest stages and in front of national audiences, and a whole lot will be expected of the 2009 version.
The back end of the bullpen might be as sound as ever.
Brad Lidge returns after a flawless season in which he didn't fail to convert any save attempts in the regular season or postseason. And just when we thought teams were figuring him out, he picked up his game even more.
Ryan Madson signed a new deal and is coming off of his most impressive string of baseball in recent years. Lighting up the radar gun near triple digits in the postseason and then baffling hitters with one of the best changeups in the game makes him an undeniable threat every night.
Now the questions begin to rain down.
Can the Phillies get by while JC Romero serves a 50-game suspension to start the season?
Romero was undoubtedly the best lefty reliever on the squad last season. His 2.75 ERA with 58 strikeouts will be missed along with his nasty disposition and slider. Romero was fiery and shut down rallies and scoring opportunities at an alarming rate last season. His absence elevates Scott Eyre to the seventh inning and situational lefty.
Eyre came over in trade from the Cubs and threw 25 plus innings while recording 32 strikeouts. Eyre has been a picture of consistency over his career and barring any injury or complete collapse, I don't see this transition going poorly.
Where does everyone else fall in place?
Barring a super impressive performance this spring, I believe Chan Ho Park will be a long reliever in the bullpen. He posted a 3.40 ERA as a Dodger last season which is not a bad number at all. However, his innings pitched were way down from to years ago to only 93. I believe the Phillies are looking to go younger with their fifth starters' spot.
Chad Durbin is a huge question mark this season. He was exceptional early on last year until August rolled around. Wear and tear kicked in and he became very hittable. The major issue here is can Durbin regain and keep the form he showed early on in 2008?
If so he will be a great right handed reliever out of the bullpen. But if Durbin is still feeling the effects of late last season it could be a bumpy ride.
Clay Condrey's numbers are never pretty. What he does on the mound isn't always pretty either. But Condrey has a way of eating up innings regardless of the situation. Whether the Phils are down big or up big, you know Condrey is good to eat up the innings to get you through.
Condrey also pitched effectively on short notice last season which was extremely beneficial when Kendrick and Myers struggle last season. More than likely, Condrey is going to give you the same this season.
What areas still need to be addressed?
Most fans are hoping to plug in another lefty pitcher to the pen. If J.A. Happ does not win the fifth starter's position he could be a candidate. Happ showed promise last year pitching effectively during almost all of his Major League appearances.
Personally, I would shy away from using Happ in the bullpen. Mike Zagurski is expected back after a season ending injury last year. Thus far he is said to be a little behind schedule to this point in his rehab. Zagurski pitched well at times in 2007 and it's got to mean something that he has stayed on the 40-man roster this long, right?
If the champs decided to go outside the system for a lefty arm, Will Ohman would best fit the bill in my opinion. He is available and for reasonably cheap, but he wants multiple years to sign.
Kyle Kendrick is an option as well. Assuming he didn't win the fifth starting spot, the Phillies will have to put him in the bullpen or send him down to AAA. Rumors are circulating that he is on the trade block for outside help.
I doubt the Phillies would place Andrew Carpenter or Carlos Carrasco into the bullpen as both are considered promising young righty starters in the future.
The bottom line is that competition will be the overall theme in spring training. With a spot or two still open in the bullpen, the Phillies need to evaluate whether or not they want to get stuck handing out a multi-year contract to a free agent or outside guy or suck it up and let guys compete internally.
Either way, we will know more as the weather breaks on the East Coast and the World Champion Phillies leave sunny Florida for the chilly confines of Citizens Bank Park.