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Where Chris Perez Signing Puts Dodgers Among MLB's Best Bullpens

Jason MartinezContributor IDecember 24, 2013

Where Chris Perez Signing Puts Dodgers Among MLB's Best Bullpens

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    Chris Perez's career as a closer is on hold while he pitches in a setup role for the Dodgers.
    Chris Perez's career as a closer is on hold while he pitches in a setup role for the Dodgers.Jason Miller/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Dodgers proved in 2013 that they were a force to be reckoned with, winning 62 of their last 90 regular-season games and falling two wins short of their first World Series appearance since 1988. 

    They'll head into 2014 with one of the best rotations in the game, led by Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, and plenty of star power in the lineup. Yasiel Puig enters his first full big league season and a healthy Matt Kemp will be out to prove that he's still one of the best players in the game. 

    A bullpen with closer Kenley Jansen and youngsters Paco Rodriguez and Chris Withrow, who are each coming off of terrific rookie seasons, gave the team a solid foundation with a few more good arms who could arrive soon from down on the farm. Depth was far from strong, though. 

    But three key free-agent signings in a span of 18 days—Brian Wilson agreed to re-sign on Dec. 5, J.P. Howell agreed to re-sign on Dec. 16 and Chris Perez agreed to a one-year deal earlier today that was first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports—has the 'pen in great shape. 

    In fact, they have a chance to be the best group of relievers in club history. Yes, even better than the 2003 bullpen that featured a dominant closer, Eric Gagne, who was perfect in 55 save opportunities while posting a 1.20 ERA, 2.2 BB/9 and 15.0 K/9, and two other pitchers, Guillermo Mota and Paul Quantril, with sub-2.00 ERAs. 

    Here's a look at my current projection that can be found over at MLBDepthCharts.com.

    CL Kenley Jansen, RHP: 53 Sv, 2.10 ERA, 2.5 BB/9, 13.3 K/9 over last 2 seasons
    SU Brian Wilson, RHP: 171 career Sv, 19.2 IP, ER, 12 H, 6 BB, 21 K w/ LAD in 2013
    SU Chris Perez, RHP: 123 Sv, 3.19 ERA, 3.5 BB/9, 8.2 K/9 since 2010
    MID Paco Rodriguez, LHP: 20 holds, 2.32 ERA, 3.1 BB/9, 10.4 K/9 in 2013
    MID Brandon League, RHP: Prior to poor 2013: 59 sv, 3.38 ERA from 2008-12
    MID LHP J.P. Howell, LHP: 2.03 ERA, held left-handed batters to .452 OPS
    LR: Jamey Wright, RHP: 3.32 ERA over last three seasons

    Trade Bait or Next in Line at Triple-A
    Chris Withrow, RHP: 2.60 ERA, 3.4 BB/9, 11.2 K/9 in 26 relief appearances in 2013

    That's a very well-rounded group with a good mix of experience, youth, power and attitude. How do they stack up against the rest of the league, though? I think they could be the best, and no worse than the top five.

    Here's a look at six other bullpens who you could make a pretty good case for being the best in the game. I've ranked them from sixth to first.

    Be sure to make your case in the comments section and let me know where you think the Dodgers belong.

6. Atlanta Braves

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    Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 bullpen projection, according to MLBDepthCharts.com

    CL Craig Kimbrel, RHP
    SU David Carpenter, RHP
    SU Luis Avilan, LHP
    MID Jordan Walden, RHP
    MID Anthony Varvaro, RHP
    MID Luis Vasquez, RHP
    LR Cory Gearrin, RHP

    Things looked bleak after the Atlanta Braves lost their top two setup men, lefties Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters, to season-ending elbow injuries early in the 2013 season. A group of no-name pitchers did an excellent job of picking up the slack, however, and bridging the gap to closer Craig Kimbrel (pictured; 1.21 ERA, 50 Sv, 13.2 K/9).

    Two of those pitchers, David Carpenter (1.78 ERA, 12 holds) and Luis Avilan (1.52 ERA, 27 holds), figure to remain in integral setup roles from the get-go in 2014 while a handful of other little-known relief pitchers should get a chance to hold down spots at least until Venters can return from Tommy John surgery. 

    The Braves are particularly excited about 27-year-old right-hander Luis Vasquez, a career minor leaguer who is currently dominating in the Dominican Winter League (1.56 ERA, 17.1 IP, 5 H, 3 BB, 19 K). His fastball has been consistently clocked in the mid-90s despite recently dropping his arm angle to become a side-armer.

    Lefty Alex Wood, who is slated to pitch out of the Braves rotation, could also move to the 'pen if the team can pick up one more starter this offseason. 

5. Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    2014 bullpen projection, according to MLBDepthCharts.com

    CL Jason Grilli, RHP
    SU Mark Melancon, RHP
    SU Tony Watson, LHP
    MID Bryan Morris, RHP
    MID Justin Wilson, LHP
    MID Stolmy Pimentel, RHP
    LR Vin Mazzaro, RHP

    Things were clicking on all cylinders for the Pirates bullpen in 2013 and even an injury to closer Jason Grilli couldn't knock this group off track. Setup man Mark Melancon (pictured) stepped in and did an excellent job, recording 14 saves in the second half, until Grilli returned late in the season.

    The 36-year-old Grilli, in his first season as a big league closer, saved 33 games while posting a 2.70 ERA with a 2.3 B/9 and 13.3 K/9. 

    Lefty duo Tony Watson and Justin Wilson combined on 36 holds and journeymen Jeanmar Gomez (3.35 ERA in 80.2 IP) and Vin Mazzaro (2.81 ERA in 73.2 IP) also contributed positively to the team's success. 

    Stolmy Pimentel, who allowed just two earned runs in 11 innings during a September call-up while averaging 95.4 MPH with his fastball, according to FanGraphs, figures to be in the mix in 2014.

     

4. Oakland Athletics

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    2014 bullpen projection, according to MLBDepthCharts.com

    CL Jim Johnson, RHP
    SU Luke Gregerson, RHP
    SU Ryan Cook, RHP
    MID Sean Doolittle, LHP
    MID Danny Otero, RHP
    MID Fernando Abad, LHP
    LR Jesse Chavez, RHP

    With closer Grant Balfour, the heart and soul of one of the best bullpens in baseball, set to depart as a free agent, the Oakland A's moved quickly to fill the void by trading for Orioles closer Jim Johnson and Padres setup man Luke Gregerson in a span of less than 24 hours earlier this month. 

    Johnson has a 2.72 ERA and 101 saves over the past two seasons, while Gregerson has a 2.88 ERA with an average of 26 holds per season since he entered the league back in 2009. If they can continue pitching well in Oakland, opposing hitters will likely have to deal with holdovers Ryan Cook (pictured) and Sean Doolittle an inning earlier than normal.

    Cook and Doolittle, who have each flourished in a setup role, will be joined by Danny Otero in the middle innings after his breakout season of 2013 (1.38 ERA in 33 relief appearances). 

    The bullpen's second lefty, Jerry Blevins, was traded to Washington, but Fernando Abad or Drew Pomeranz give the team two pretty good candidates to step in and fill the void.

3. Kansas City Royals

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    Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 bullpen projection, according to MLBDepthCharts.com

    CL Greg Holland, RHP
    SU Luke Hochevar, RHP
    SU Kelvin Herrera, RHP
    MID Tim Collins, LHP
    MID Aaron Crow, RHP
    MID Louis Coleman, RHP
    LR Everett Teaford, LHP

    The reliever to watch for the Kansas City Royals last season was hard-throwing Kelvin Herrera, who posted a 2.35 ERA with a 2.2 BB/9 and 8.2 K/9 in 76 appearances as a rookie in 2012. But the 23-year-old, despite a promising jump in his strikeout numbers (11.4 K/9), saw his ERA rise close to 4.00 and also ended up spending time in the minors because of his struggles. 

    The emergence of closer Greg Holland (pictured; 1.21 ERA, 2.4 BB/9, 13.8 K/9, 47 Sv) and converted starter Luke Hochevar (1.92 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 10.5 K/9, 9 holds), however, kept this group from struggling as it posted the second-best ERA in the majors (2.55). 

    Lefty Tim Collins and right-handers Louis Coleman and Aaron Crow are a solid group of middle relievers who are more than capable of stepping into a late-inning role, if necessary. 

2. Boston Red Sox

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    2014 bullpen projection, according to MLBDepthCharts.com

    CL Koji Uehara, RHP
    SU Edward Mujica, RHP
    SU Junichi Tazawa, RHP
    MID Craig Breslow, LHP
    MID Andrew Miller, LHP
    MID Burke Badenhop, RHP
    LR Felix Doubront, LHP

    The addition of Edward Mujica, as long as the post-August version of 2013 that got him banished to mop-up duty in the playoffs doesn't show up, should give the Boston Red Sox the reliable right-handed setup man they were looking for down the stretch to help get the lead to closer Koji Uehara (pictured).

    It also takes pressure off of Junichi Tazawa, who pitched well overall (3.16 ERA, 1.6 BB/9, 9.5 K/9) but struggled with inconsistency at times.

    Craig Breslow (1.81 ERA, 14 holds) is one of the more reliable lefties in the league while Andrew Miller has shown flashes of being a productive big leaguer after he posted a 2.64 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 30.2 innings before a season-ending foot injury.

    With a talented group of starting pitching prospects expected to begin the season in Triple-A, the Sox will also have the ability to utilize one or two out of their big league bullpen as they did with Brandon Workman last season.

     

1. St. Louis Cardinals

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    2014 bullpen projection, according to MLBDepthCharts.com

    CL Trevor Rosenthal, RHP
    SU Carlos Martinez, RHP
    SU Kevin Siegrist, LHP
    MID Lancy Lynn, RHP
    MID Seth Maness, RHP
    MID Randy Choate, LHP
    LR Angel Castro, RHP

    The St. Louis Cardinals appeared to be in big trouble with no clear answer on how to replace closer Jason Motte, who went down with a season-ending elbow injury prior to the start of the season. Mitchell Boggs wasn't the answer. Trevor Rosenthal (pictured) wasn't quite ready. 

    Fortunately, Edward Mujica came to the rescue. And while he solidified the ninth inning, a bevy of young relievers, including Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Seth Maness and Carlos Martinez, were getting their feet wet in preparation for what was to come late in the season.

    That was a World Series run, which wouldn't have been possible without Rosenthal stepping into the closer's role for a struggling Mujica late in the season. It wouldn't have been possible without Siegrist, who was a minor league starter until 2013, and Martinez, who is still considered a starting pitcher, taking over late-inning roles to bridge the gap to Rosenthal. 

    While Martinez will audition for a spot in the starting rotation in 2014, he could very well end up back in the 'pen, along with one of current starters, possibly Lance Lynn, because of the terrific overall depth of the team's pitching staff. And you get the feeling the next Maness or Siegrist is just waiting in the wings down in the upper minors.

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