As spring training and the 2009 baseball season creep ever closer, the Detroit Tigers still have many unanswered questions about their bullpen.
There still seems to be some confusion over who will be the closer, who will be the set up man, and which of their seven starting pitcher candidates will move to the bullpen or be dealt for additional bullpen help.
These are all questions the Tigers front office and managerial staff will have to answer throughout spring training. However, there is enough evidence for us to take a good look at the Tigers bullpen situation.
The three big arms in the Tigers pen will be Joel Zumaya, Fernando Rodney, and newly acquired Brandon Lyon. Of those three, I think Lyon is the most likely to inherit the closer's role. Lyon converted 26 save attempts for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, even while battling a few arm injuries.
Rodney and Zumaya have bigger questions about their arms, their toughness, and their ability to stay healthy.
It seems that Rodney’s best performance came when he was in the eighth-inning set up man role. He has a nice fastball and one of the best changeups in the game today, if he can throw more strikes, he could do well in this role.
Zumaya, on the other hand, seems to yet another one of these hard throwers who cannot stay healthy for any length of time. Given his record of injury, I would bet that he ends up as the seventh-inning man until he can prove he can remain healthy.
The bigger question seems to be which of the seven starting rotation candidates ends up in the pen or dealt to another team.
Justin Verlander, Armando Galarraga, Jeremy Bonderman, and Edwin Jackson seem assured of the first four spots, leaving Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis, and Zach Miner batting for the final fifth spot in the rotation.
As a Tigers fan who watched a good deal of games in 2008, I feel that Robertson is the leading candidate to move to the pen.
It seems that most of Robertson’s problems come the second time through the opponent’s batting order. In the pen as set up man, he would only see each batter once, and I think that would be his best chance at success.
That would leave Willis and Miner to compete for the last rotation spot, and possibly for a place on this team.
Since Willis’ contract would be very hard to unload, and Miner continually seems to be the guy without a place on this staff, maybe the Tigers should trade him for another bullpen arm.
One thing is for certain: these decisions will likely be the narrative of the entire Spring Training for the Tigers and their fans. As guys prove themselves or not, all the Tigers management and fans will be following these battles closely.
In a large way, these battles and decisions will likely prove to be the equation that determines how successful this team will be in 2009.