MLB Power Rankings: Rating Every MLB Team's Bullpen Entering Spring Training
In the age of pitch counts, with complete games a rarity, having a strong bullpen is as important—if not more crucial to a team's success—than having a formidable starting rotation.
Whether it's someone who comes into the game only when a left-handed batter is at the plate, a converted starting pitcher who can throw four innings of relief when a current starter struggles or a shutdown closer in the ninth inning, relievers are as big a part of the game as they've ever been.
While there's still time for these groups to be tweaked before the season starts—and bullpens are fluid, constantly evolving over the course of a season, so these names are guaranteed to change for nearly every team—let's take a look at how every team's bullpen looks as we inch closer to the start of spring training.
30. Houston Astros
Wesley Wright is one of the few bright spots in Houston's bullpen.
Bob Levey/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Xavier Cedeno||L|
|Middle Relief||Fernando Rodriguez||R|
|Middle Relief||Josh Fields||R|
|Long Reliever||John Ely||R|
Like the rest of the roster, Houston's bullpen is, to put it nicely, a work in progress.
Jose Veras has proven himself to be a solid setup man, picking up 56 holds over the past three seasons, but the 32-year-old with five career saves is going to be given a chance to win the closer's job in Spring Training.
If he falters, top pitching prospect Jarred Cosart could be an option as well, though he has been groomed to be a starter in both the Phillies and Astros minor league systems.
Wesley Wright, who has pitched to a 2.94 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over the past two seasons for Houston, is, aside from Veras, the only other proven, reliable arm in the pen.
29. Miami Marlins
Stephen Cishek is pretty much the only quality reliever Miami has.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Daniel Jennings||L|
|Middle Relief||Chris Hatcher||R|
|Middle Relief||Scott Maine||L|
|Long Reliever||Tom Koehler||R|
Like the rest of the team, the Marlins bullpen is largely devoid of bonafide major league talent.
How ugly is it?
Closer Steve Cishek (2.69 ERA) is the only member of the group to post a sub-4.00 ERA in 2012.
It's going to be a long season in Miami as it is, and the bullpen isn't going to make things any better.
28. New York Mets
If only Bobby Parnell could handle the ninth inning...
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Greg Burke||R|
|Middle Relief||Pedro Feliciano||L|
|Middle Relief||Aaron Laffey||L|
|Long Reliever||Jeremy Hefner||R|
A mediocre unit in 2012 figures to be equally mediocre in 2013 as the Mets have done very little to address the bullpen issues that plagued them last season.
The maddening Frank Francisco returns as the team's closer, while Bobby Parnell, who has the stuff to close, has proven that he simply can't handle the ninth inning, blowing nearly as many saves (five) as he converted (seven) when given a chance in 2012.
Pedro Feliciano hasn't thrown a pitch in the major leagues since the 2010 season when he was a member of the Mets.
New York worked Feliciano to the point (266 games from 2008 to 2010) that he needed multiple surgeries and two years to recover from the abuse he took in Flushing.
He's the biggest addition the team has made to the group this winter.
That says it all right there.
27. Colorado Rockies
Rex Brothers is much better than his numbers indicate.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Rex Brothers||L|
|Middle Relief||Adam Ottavino||R|
|Middle Relief||Josh Outman||L|
|Long Reliever||Dan Rosenbaum||L|
With the ill-fated four-man rotation no longer being utilized, Colorado's bullpen might be able to get back to some semblance of normalcy in 2013.
Matt Belisle and Wilton Lopez are solid, if unspectacular, setup men, while 37-year-old closer Rafael Betancourt remains effective, though he did blow seven save opportunities in 2012, a number that is far too high.
Should Betancourt falter in 2013, southpaw Rex Brothers could be the one that steps in and replaces the veteran.
Brothers, 25, was dominant away from Coors Field in 2012, pitching to a 2.23 ERA and striking out 41 batters in 32.1 innings of work. At home? A 5.35 ERA.
26. Chicago Cubs
How will Kyuji Fujikawa's game translate to the major leagues?
David Banks/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||James Russell||L|
|Middle Relief||Michael Bowden||R|
|Middle Relief||Hisanori Takahashi||L|
|Long Reliever||Hector Rondon||R|
Middle relievers Michael Bowden and James Russell were the lone bright spots of a Cubs bullpen that was worked hard in 2012.
Carlos Marmol returns as closer, but he was mediocre in 2012 and was almost traded once already this winter.
Manager Dale Sveum isn't bound to give him a long leash.
Despite what Theo Epstein explained to the Chicago Tribune's Paul Sullivan last month, Marmol figures to be pushed hard by 31-year-old Japanese import Kyuji Fujikara:
The Cubs talked to Carlos Marmol’s agent, Paul Kinzer, at the winter meetings, after some concerns that Marmol was being displaced as closer. Epstein said he reiterated to Kinzer that “Marmol is closing,” and said Friday the notion of Fujikawa closing was not brought up during talks with the player and his agents.
“He said: ‘My job is not closer, it’s setup guy -- to help the team win and do what the manager asks of me,’ ” Epstein said. “And that’s the only time it came up in the whole discussion.”
At the very least, Fujikawa, who has picked up 202 saves and pitched to a 1.36 ERA in six seasons with the Hanshin Tigers of the Japan Central League, has a chance to be an electric setup man on the North side of Chicago.
25. Pittsburgh Pirates
Can Jason Grilli handle the ninth inning?
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Jared Hughes||R|
|Middle Relief||Bryan Morris||R|
|Middle Relief||Justin Wilson||L|
|Long Reliever||Chris Leroux||R|
Closer Joel Hanrahan is now in Boston, with former Astros and Red Sox closer Mark Melancon setting up Pittsburgh's new closer, former setup man Jason Grilli.
It's convoluted and a bit confusing, I know.
Grilli, 36, is getting his first shot at closing on a full-time basis in his 11th major league season.
An excellent setup man for the Pirates over the past two seasons (2.76 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 127 Ks in 91.1 innings of work), Grilli has never finished a season with more than two saves.
Southpaw Justin Wilson is someone to keep an eye on as a potential replacement should Grilli falter.
A starting pitcher for most of his minor league career, Wilson threw 4.2 innings of relief for the Pirates in 2012. While he got hit hard (10 hits), he struck out seven batters, which works out to a 13.5 K/9 rate.
If he can show the Pirates that he can keep batters from making solid contact in spring training, he could quickly become one of the more important pieces of the Pirates bullpen in 2013.
24. Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto needs a healthy Sergio Santos late in games.
Tim Umphrey/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Darren Oliver||L|
|Middle Relief||Brad Lincoln||R|
|Middle Relief||Esmil Rogers||R|
|Long Reliever||J.A. Happ||L|
With a vastly improved starting rotation, Toronto's beleaguered and overworked bullpen should rebound nicely in 2013.
Casey Janssen thrived as a closer, converting 22-of-25 save opportunities and holding batters to a .195/.241/.323 slash line.
Darren Oliver, now 42, continues to defy father time and remains an excellent relief pitcher, while Steve Delabar is a solid, unspectacular setup man.
The key to the Blue Jays bullpen, however, rests on the surgically repaired shoulder of Sergio Santos.
Originally pegged as the team's closer in 2012, Santos was never right and went under the knife in July, appearing in only six games all season.
Toronto needs Santos to pitch like the guy who picked up 30 saves and 92 strikeouts in 63.1 innings for the White Sox in 2011 if the bullpen is going to effectively backup the team's starting rotation.
23. Milwaukee Brewers
John Axford must bounce back in 2013.
Mike McGinnis/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Mike Gonzalez||L|
|Middle Relief||Burke Badenhop||R|
|Middle Relief||Tom Gorzelanny||L|
|Long Reliever||Josh Stinson||R|
One of the worst bullpens in baseball in 2012, the Brewers went out and added three quality relievers in Burke Badenhop, Mike Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny, who will all certainly help the cause.
But if closer John Axford's 2012 struggles carry over to 2013, it won't make a lick of difference in the end.
Axford, who led the National League with 46 saves in 2011 and received votes in both the Cy Young and MVP races, pitched to a 4.67 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and converted only 35-of-43 save chances in 2012.
He needs to return to his previous form if the Brewers are going to get over the hump and back into the thick of the NL Central race.
22. Boston Red Sox
Where does Daniel Bard fit into the equation?
Tony Medina/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Andrew Miller||L|
|Middle Relief||Junichi Tazawa||R|
|Middle Relief||Craig Breslow||L|
|Long Reliever||Alfredo Aceves||R|
Considering how ineffective Boston's starting rotation was in 2012, the fact that the team's bullpen ranked 19th in the majors with a 3.88 ERA is nothing short of extraordinary.
Things could have been much, much worse.
Adding former Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan should help, as he pushes Andrew Bailey into a setup role, where the team hopes Bailey can rebound from an injury-filled and ineffective 2012 season.
It will be interesting to see how new Red Sox skipper John Farrell utilizes Daniel Bard, who was ineffective as both a starter and reliever in 2012.
Over his career, Bard has been effective out of the pen, sitting with a 3.21 ERA and 217 strikeouts in just over 202 innings of relief.
A bounce-back season from both Bailey and Bard is essential to this group's overall success in 2013.
21. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
How effective will Ryan Madson be?
Rich Pilling/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Kevin Jepsen||R|
|Middle Relief||Scott Downs||L|
|Middle Relief||David Carpenter||R|
|Long Reliever||Jerome Williams||R|
The Angels enter 2013 with a major question in the bullpen: How effective will new closer Ryan Madson be?
Madson, who missed the entire 2012 season with Tommy John surgery, is intent on being ready to close on Opening Day, as he told MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez. But it typically takes more than a year—18 months—for a pitcher to really be back to full strength after the procedure.
Madson is far from a sure thing in the ninth inning.
Ernesto Frieri, who was as good as any reliever in baseball over the first half of the 2012 season (0.71 ERA, 1.00 WHIP) and finished the season with 23 saves, faded over the second half, posting an ERA of 4.50.
He's best suited for a setup role, but could find himself forced back into ninth inning duty if Madson struggles.
Adding Sean Burnett was a shrewd move, as the southpaw is deadly against left-handed batters, holding them to a .211/.245/.289 slash line with the Nationals in 2012.
Scott Downs and Kevin Jepsen are solid relievers, though Downs will celebrate his 37th birthday before Opening Day and you wonder how much longer he can fight off father time and the wear-and-tear that comes with averaging 62 relief appearances a season for more than a decade.
20. Philadelphia Phillies
Can Phillippe Aumont control his electric stuff?
Hunter Martin/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Mike Stutes||R|
|Middle Relief||Jeremy Horst||R|
|Middle Relief||Justin De Fratus||R|
|Long Reliever||Raul Valdes||L|
Jonathan Papelbon is still one of the best closers in the game, and Mike Adams, when healthy, is one of the elite setup men around.
But the key to the Phillies bullpen this season might be 24-year-old Phillippe Aumont, who you'll notice is not someone I have penciled into the mix currently.
We saw glimpses of Aumont's electric fastball and knee-buckling breaking ball in 2012, but he struggled mightily with his command. In 14.2 innings of relief for the Phillies, he struck out 14 batters but walked nine, throwing two wild pitches and hitting a batter as well.
If Aumont can gain control of his pitches and keep them around the strike zone, he has the talent to move the Phillies bullpen up the rankings by himself.
19. Chicago White Sox
Addison Reed must improve after a shaky 2012.
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Nate Jones||R|
|Middle Relief||Matt Lindstrom||R|
|Middle Relief||Donnie Veal||L|
|Long Reliever||Dylan Axelrod||R|
All eyes will be on closer Addison Reed in 2013.
Ranked by Baseball America as Chicago's top prospect heading into the 2012 season, Reed was adequate in save situations (3.48 ERA, 1.37 WHIP over 27.2 innings) last season, not so much when the save wasn't on the line (6.75 ERA, 1.36 WHIP in 33.2 innings.)
The maddening thing about Reed is that he has electric stuff that misses bats, evidenced by his 54 strikeouts in 55 innings of work last season. With Don Cooper still handling the pitchers on Chicago's South side, there's reason for optimism—and more success—in 2013.
Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton are both solid as setup men, and the addition of hard-throwing Matt Lindstrom was a shrewd move to bolster the unit.
18. Minnesota Twins
Glen Perkins was excellent as the Twins closer in 2012.
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Josh Roenicke||R|
|Middle Relief||Alex Burnett||R|
|Middle Relief||Tyler Robertson||L|
|Long Reliever||Anthony Swarzak||R|
If the Twins starting pitching can keep the team in a game for six innings, Minnesota has the arms in the bullpen to seal the deal.
Both Jared Burton (2.18 ERA, 0.92 WHIP) and Casey Fien (2.06 ERA, 0.97 WHIP) enjoyed great success as setup men in 2012, and a full season of Glen Perkins at the back-end of the bullpen could pay big dividends in 2013.
Perkins, who finished the season with a 2.56 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 16 saves in 20 chances, thrived both in save situations and non-save situations alike.
17. Detroit Tigers
Can Bruce Rondon handle major league batters?
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Al Alburquerque||R|
|Middle Relief||Octavio Dotel||R|
|Middle Relief||Brayan Villarreal||R|
|Long Reliever||Duane Below||L|
The Tigers return the same bullpen as they rolled out in 2012, with one notable exception.
Gone is mercurial closer Jose Valverde, replaced not by a veteran like Rafael Soriano, but a 22-year-old that hasn't thrown a major league pitch in prospect Bruce Rondon.
A hard-throwing righty who routinely touches triple digits on the radar gun, the nearly 300-pound Rondon has the stuff to break bats and befuddle batters, but how his game translates from the minors to the big leagues remains to be seen.
Should he falter, Octavio Dotel is the only Tigers reliever with any substantial experience as a closer, though it's possible that either Joaquin Benoit or even Phil Coke could see time in the ninth inning as well.
16. Cleveland Indians
Joe Smith is one of the more underrated relievers in the game.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Matt Albers||R|
|Middle Relief||Bryan Shaw||R|
|Middle Relief||Nick Hagadone||L|
|Long Reliever||Frank Herrmann||R|
When he's on, Chris Perez is the best closer in the AL Central.
Unfortunately, the outspoken two-time All-Star ddn't bring his "A-Game" often enough in 2012, and that, coupled with his critical comments about both Indians fans and management, will have him on a very short leash in 2013.
Vinnie Pestano could take over in the ninth inning (and might actually be a better choice than Perez to begin with), while Joe Smith remains one of the more effective middle relievers that nobody talks about.
The additions of Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw should help to solidify a group that finished 23rd in baseball last season with a 3.99 ERA, though both Nick Hagadone and Frank Herrmann are unproven commodities.
15. Texas Rangers
Does Joakim Soria have anything left in the tank?
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Josh Lindblom||R|
|Middle Relief||Tanner Scheppers||R|
|Middle Relief||Kyle McClellan||R|
|Long Reliever||Mike Kirkman||L|
Joe Nathan and Jason Frasor are solid veterans you don't think twice about, while Robbie Ross burst onto the scene in 2012 with a phenomenal performance, going 6-0 with a 2.22 ERA and 1.20 WHIP.
The Rangers could use a bounce back season from former Cardinals closer Kyle McClellan, who struggled mightily in 2012, but the key to the whole thing is former All-Star closer Joakim Soria.
Soria, who missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing the second Tommy John surgery of his career, is a two-time All-Star that, when healthy, is one of the premier relievers in baseball.
In 192 relief appearances from 2007 through 2010, Soria pitched to a 2.01 ERA and 0.99 WHIP, saving 132 games and striking out 281 batters in 255 innings of work.
If he can regain that form upon his return to action, which probably won't happen until the season is well underway, the Rangers bullpen could be one of the best in the game.
14. Washington Nationals
Rafael Soriano makes the Nationals bullpen significantly better.
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Ryan Mattheus||R|
|Middle Relief||Henry Rodriguez||R|
|Middle Relief||Zach Duke||L|
|Long Reliever||Craig Stammen||R|
The signing of Rafael Soriano to handle the ninth inning was an excellent move by GM Mike Rizzo.
With the ability to now put former closer Drew Storen in a setup role with All-Star Tyler Clippard, the Nationals effectively only need their starters to throw six innings of quality baseball before handing the ball over to Storen in the seventh inning.
Yet the Nationals bullpen takes a step back because of the exodus of middle relievers: Tom Gorzelanny, Mike Gonzalez and Sean Burnett will all hone their craft elsewhere in 2013, leaving the Nats with only one left-handed reliever, Zach Duke.
13. Seattle Mariners
Carter Capps could be a dominant closer if given the chance.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Charlie Furbush||L|
|Middle Relief||Shawn Kelley||R|
|Middle Relief||Oliver Perez||L|
|Long Reliever||Josh Kinney||R|
Seattle's bullpen might be devoid of big names (Oliver Perez is probably the most recognizable name among the bunch), but this is an effective group of pitchers who performed quite well in 2012, finishing with a 3.39 ERA and holding opponents to a .230 batting average.
Tom Wilhelmsen replaced Brandon League as the team's closer and thrived in the role, converting 29-of-34 saves and averaging more than a strikeout per inning, one of six Mariners relievers to whiff more than a batter per inning.
But here's the thing: Wilhelmsen isn't the best closer on the team.
That falls to 22-year-old Carter Capps, a former catcher who has a nasty fastball and quality breaking ball to make hitters look foolish.
His fastball sits in the high-90s (he averaged 98.3 in 2012, according to FanGraphs), and while he also has a breaking ball in his repertoire, his heater is far and away his best pitch—and it's incredibly difficult for batters to catch up to.
If he and Wilhelmsen swap places, the Mariners bullpen could jump into the Top 10.
12. New York Yankees
Mariano Rivera is still on a level all his own.
Al Bello/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Joba Chamberlain||R|
|Middle Relief||David Aardsma||R|
|Middle Relief||Clay Rapada||L|
|Long Reliever||David Phelps||R|
The ageless Mariano Rivera reclaims his rightful place at the back of the Yankees bullpen after missing much of the 2012 season with the first major injury of his career.
David Robertson remains one of the premier setup men in all of baseball, while Joba Chamberlain and David Aardsma, both a full year removed from their injuries, should be back in top form.
Were that trio coming off of seasons in which they were healthy, the Yankees bullpen lands in the Top 10. But with some uncertainty about their effectiveness out of the gate, they land just outside heading into the season.
11. San Diego Padres
Can Huston Street stay healthy in 2013?
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Dale Thayer||R|
|Middle Relief||Nick Vincent||R|
|Middle Relief||Joe Thatcher||L|
|Long Reliever||Anthony Bass||R|
While Trevor Hoffman and Heath Bell are long gone, Huston Street and Luke Gregerson have done a fine job impersonating the one formidable duo at the back of the Padres bullpen.
Street, when healthy, can still be a shutdown closer, as evidenced by his 1.85 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, and 47 strikeouts in 39 innings of work in 2012.
Gregerson continues to pitch at an incredibly high level in a setup role. Over the past two seasons, he's appeared in 138 games, pitching to a 2.54 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, averaging 7.5 K/9.
San Diego's bullpen finished the 2012 season with a 3.24 ERA, ninth-lowest in all of baseball. There's no reason to expect dissimilar results in 2013.
10. Arizona Diamondbacks
Which Heath Bell is Arizona getting?
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Matt Reynolds||L|
|Middle Relief||Tony Sipp||L|
|Middle Relief||Brad Ziegler||R|
|Long Reliever||Josh Collmenter||R|
Back in 2006, then San Diego Padres GM Kevin Towers made a trade to acquire a struggling Heath Bell from the New York Mets. The move paid off big time, as Bell became a dynamite setup man for Trevor Hoffman and eventually, an All-Star closer himself.
Six years later, Towers has done it again, and he's hoping for similar results.
Bell, 35, is coming off of a terrible season with the Marlins, one that saw him lose his job as closer and pitch to a 5.09 ERA and 1.55 WHIP, both the highest numbers he's had since his final season with the Mets in 2006, when he had a 5.11 ERA and 1.68 WHIP.
Arizona needs Bell to return to his All-Star form, if for no other reason than to give the team insurance should closer J.J. Putz miss time with injury.
Putz, who has been outstanding with the Diamondbacks, pitching to a 2.48 ERA and picking up 77 saves over the past two seasons, has battled injuries throughout his career and there's always a chance he could be sidelined once again.
The key to it all, however, is 27-year-old David Hernandez.
Hernandez emerged as one of baseball's best relief pitchers in 2012, posting a 2.50 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and striking out 98 batters in just over 68 innings of work.
Since moving to the bullpen for good in 2011, Hernandez has been outstanding, pitching to a 2.94 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 146 games, picking up 175 strikeouts in 137.2 innings pitched.
Bell in the seventh inning, Hernandez in the eighth and Putz to close things out has the chance to be an overpowering trio for Arizona in 2013.
9. St. Louis Cardinals
Trevor Rosenthal is the wild-card in the Cardinals bullpen.
|Middle Relief||Marc Rzepczynski||L|
|Middle Relief||Edward Mujica||R|
|Middle Relief||Randy Choate||L|
|Long Reliever||Fernando Salas||R|
The Cardinals wanted to add a quality left-handed reliever to pair with Marc Rzepczynski, who was overworked in 2012, and they landed an excellent one in veteran Randy Choate.
But the real strength of the Cardinals bullpen is the group they used en route to the playoffs: Mitchell Boggs, Edward Mujica, Trevor Rosenthal and closer Jason Motte.
Rosenthal used his fastball to make batters look foolish in the postseason, striking out 15 batters in 8.2 innings of scoreless relief, scattering two hits along the way. If he can build on that success in 2013, the Cardinals bullpen could easily jump into the Top 5.
8. Los Angeles Dodgers
Kenley Jansen should be closing games for LA.
John Grieshop/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||J.P. Howell||L|
|Middle Relief||Matt Guerrier||R|
|Middle Relief||Javy Guerra||R|
|Long Reliever||Chris Capuano||L|
Much to the chagrin of Dodgers fans everywhere, the team did not re-sign Brandon League to a three-year, $22.5 million deal (with a vesting option for a fourth year) to setup Kenley Jansen, according to the Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez:
#Dodgers envision Brandon League as their closer.— Dylan Hernandez (@dylanohernandez) October 31, 2012
Jansen, 25, has overpowering stuff and was largely successful in the closer's role for Los Angeles in 2012, yet it's League, who started the 2012 season as Seattle's closer but quickly lost the job, that gets the nod.
Jansen should be the closer, and given League's struggles with Seattle, it may not be long before Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly realizes that as well.
7. Cincinnati Reds
Are the Reds ready for life without Chapman in the ninth inning?
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Logan Ondrusek||R|
|Middle Relief||J.J. Hoover||R|
|Middle Relief||Alfredo Simon||R|
|Long Reliever||Sam LeClure||R|
One of the biggest storylines of the entire 2013 season will be Cincinnati's decision to finally move Aroldis Chapman into the starting rotation.
While the flame-thrower known as the "Cuban Missile" certainly has the talent to be as dominating a starter as he was a reliever, the question isn't so much how Chapman will fare, but more how the bullpen will fare without him.
No matter how you spin it, the Reds bullpen is going to take a step back in 2013 with Chapman's absence—but this is still an excellent group of relievers.
Jonathan Broxton, a former All-Star closer who setup Chapman for much of the second half of the 2012 season, takes over in the ninth inning.
Jose Arredondo (6-2, 2.95 ERA) and Sean Marshall (5-5. 2.51 ERA, 22 holds) are excellent setup men, while Logan Ondrusek and Sam LeClure are capable in their respective roles.
It will be interesting to see if the Reds can stick with the plan and avoid having prospect Tony Cingrani have more of a role in 2013.
Reds GM Walt Jocketty told MLB.com's Mark Sheldon that Cingrani was not a part of the team's bullpen plans at this point:
"He could do that, but we would prefer him to start at Triple-A," Jocketty said. "We want to have starting pitching depth. He's capable of relieving, but it's not in his best long-term interests. If it becomes in the best interests of the club, maybe it's something we could look at in Spring Training."
Cingrani, a 23-year-old southpaw, turned heads in only three appearances in 2012, striking out nine batters in five innings of work.
6. Oakland Athletics
Can Ryan Cook be even better than he was in 2012?
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Jordan Norberto||L|
|Middle Relief||Pat Neshek||R|
|Middle Relief||Jerry Blevins||L|
|Long Reliever||Chris Resop||R|
Oakland's bullpen ranked fourth in the majors with a 2.94 ERA in 2012, and only the Tampa Bay Rays relievers held opposing batters to a lower batting average (.208) than Oakland's relievers, who opponents hit a feeble .209 against.
Ryan Cook burst onto the scene last year, pitching to a 2.09 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, picking up 14 saves and earning the first All-Star selection of his young career. What does he have in store for an encore?
Erstwhile veteran Grant Balfour was excellent in the ninth inning, converting 24-of-26 save chances, while Jerry Blevins (2.48 ERA, 1.07 WHIP) and Pat Neshek (1.37 ERA, 0.81 WHIP) were incredibly effective as well.
There's a lot to like about this group heading into 2013, as they remain one of the elite bullpens in all of baseball.
5. Baltimore Orioles
Brian Matusz's career could be saved working out of the pen.
Greg Fiume/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Troy Patton||L|
|Middle Relief||Luis Ayala||R|
|Middle Relief||Brian Matusz||L|
|Long Reliever||Tommy Hunter||R|
Led by closer Jim Johnson, whose 51 saves led all of baseball in 2012, the Orioles boast one of the best bullpens around.
Pedro Strop, Darren O'Day and Luis Ayala were all fantastic throughout 2012, going a combined 17-8 with a 2.46 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 178 strikeouts and four saves over 206.1 innings of work.
The key to the Orioles bullpen, however, might be former starter Brian Matusz.
Matusz, who was horrid as a member of the rotation, was dynamite out of the bullpen, posting a 1.35 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, three walks and 19 strikeouts in 13.1 innings of work. A full season of Matusz in Baltimore's bullpen will make the unit even better than it was in 2012.
4. San Francisco Giants
Sergio Romo has a pretty fearsome beard of his own.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Jeremy Affeldt||L|
|Middle Relief||George Kontos||R|
|Middle Relief||Jose Mijares||L|
|Long Reliever||Chad Gaudin||R|
Former closer Brian Wilson remains a free agent, his role aptly filled by Sergio Romo, who let his work speak louder than his beard in 2012.
Romo converted 14-of-15 save opportunities, striking out more than a batter per inning and finishing the season with a 1.79 ERA and 0.85 WHIP in 55.1 innings of relief.
He was one of five Giants relievers to finish the season with a sub-3.00 ERA, joining Jeremy Affeldt (2.70), Santiago Casilla (2.84), George Kontos (2.47) and Jose Lopez (2.50).
With the same group returning in 2013, the Giants bullpen remains one of the best in the game.
3. Tampa Bay Rays
Can Fernando Rodney repeat his ridiculous 2012?
David Banks/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Roberto Hernandez||R|
|Middle Relief||Brandon Gomes||R|
|Middle Relief||Cesar Ramos||L|
|Long Reliever||Jamey Wright||R|
With the exception of Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel and Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman, there may not have been a better closer in baseball in 2012 than Tampa Bay's Fernando Rodney.
The 36-year-old, who was named the AL Comeback Player of the Year, had one of the great seasons any reliever ever has in 2012. He converted 48-of-50 save chances and finished the year with a higher WHIP (0.78) than ERA (0.60).
Asking him to repeat those numbers in 2013 might be asking far too much, but anything that remotely resembles that kind of performance will find Tampa Bay's bullpen not missing a beat in 2013.
Jake McGee and Joel Peralta are excellent setup men and with Tampa's never-ending supply of pitching from its farm system, the Rays can easily swap pieces in-and-out when needed.
2. Kansas City Royals
A full season of Greg Holland in the ninth inning will pay off for the Royals in 2013.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
|Middle Relief||Tim Collins||L|
|Middle Relief||Luke Hochevar||R|
|Middle Relief||Everett Teaford||L|
|Long Reliever||Luis Mendoza||R|
With a vastly improved starting rotation, Kansas City's bullpen should see a lighter workload in 2013, having their outings be both shorter and more effective.
That's a scary thought for the opposition, as the Royals bullpen was excellent in 2012, finishing fifth in the majors with a 3.17 ERA.
Greg Holland emerged as a legitimate closer after the mid-season trade of Jonathan Broxton, converting 16-of-20 save opportunities and finishing the season with 91 strikeouts in only 67 innings of work, and he'll make the loss of former All-Star closer Joakim Soria more bearable.
Holland isn't the only strikeout artist in the group, as both Aaron Crow (65 Ks in 64.2 innings) and Tim Collins (93 Ks in 69.2 innings) missed bats routinely in 2012.
As a group, the Royals bullpen finished the 2012 season with 535 strikeouts, second in all of baseball behind the Colorado Rockies.
1. Atlanta Braves
Meet the best closer in baseball.
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|Middle Relief||Eric O'Flaherty||L|
|Middle Relief||Cory Gearrin||R|
|Middle Relief||Luis Avilan||L|
|Long Reliever||Cristhian Martinez||R|
With all due respect to Mariano Rivera, Craig Kimbrel is far-and-away the best closer in baseball.
How filthy is his stuff? Over the past two seasons, Kimbrel has posted a 1.61 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, saved 88 games and struck out 243 batters in 139.2 innings of work.
Those are numbers you'd expect to see in a video game, not real life.
He anchors the best bullpen in the majors, one that got even better by adding hard-throwing righty Jordan Walden to the mix this winter.
Eric O'Flaherty has been nothing short of phenomenal since the Braves acquired him from the Mariners four years ago, pitching to a 1.95 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over the past four seasons.
Along with Jonny Venters (1.71 second half ERA in 2012) and Luis Avilan (2.00 ERA, 33 strikeouts in 36 innings), Atlanta has three formidable lefties in the pen, something not many teams can boast.