I am not willing to say with any degree of certainty (say, 75%) that any individual pitcher will be a member of next year’s bullpen. History shows that at least three or four pitchers will return, but I’ve little idea which ones.

Dan Kolb and Chris Reitsma… Are Dan Kolb and Chris Reitsma. Both are eligible for arbitration. It’s impossible to believe that the Braves will offer Kolb a contract, but then I figured Reitsma was a goner after last season. Kolb probably won’t get a major league deal after being the worst reliever in the league last year. (Not just my subjective opinion; that’s what the numbers say. I blame JC for sponsoring his Baseball-Reference page.) I don’t think he’s at the free agency threshold yet, but it doesn’t matter because he’ll be looking for work. Right?

Reitsma is, objectively, a valuable pitcher. He’s a lot more valuable in a Strat or APBA game than in reality, though, because then you don’t have to put up with the reality of his very real limitations. He goes into funks where he can’t get anyone out, apparently because of a fatigue problem. Because of a relatively low strikeout rate (it plummeted to 5.16 this year, the lowest since his rookie season, after steadily rising) he isn’t the kind of pitcher you want in the ninth, and because of the need to limit his innings you don’t want him as a primary setup man. So you have a 60-inning pitcher you can’t use more than three times a week or he’ll run out of gas. I still think that he’s better suited for 30 starts than 70 relief appearances and someone will try that someday. I think he’ll be back in the Braves’ bullpen in 2006, though.

Kyle Farnsworth was great for the Braves in the regular season, 10-10 in save opportunities, a 1.98 ERA, but then there’s Game Four to deal with. He’s a free agent, and probably left at least $5 million on the mound at Minute Maid Park. (Homers were his only problem with the Braves; after giving up just one in Detroit, he allowed four in Atlanta in about half the innings.) I’d like for the Braves to resign him, I guess. I think he’s at least capable of being Closer X, the average ninth-inning reliever who won’t kill you during the regular season. He’s not Mariano Rivera or Brad Lidge or Billy Wagner, but those guys cost $10 million a season and there aren’t very many of them. You’re probably better off hoping to find the elite guy from within.

I am not sure about Jim Brower’s service time but I think he’s eligible for free agency. If you can keep him for about what he made last year ($1,162,500) I think it’s probably worth it. He pitched well after his demotion and recall, and overall was a little better than league average for the Braves after being terrible for the Giants. You have to have these guys, especially if you have a lot of kids in the bullpen.

That seems to be likely; I expect that the Braves will open the season with at least three pitchers with a year or less of major league experience on the roster. John Foster is a little more experienced than that, but not much. After looking strong much of the year he was clearly not right late, and missed some time with an injury. He will probably never be fully sound again, but he’s a lefthander with a decent strikeout rate, so he’ll probably pitch for years, occasionally missing time. Walks a lot of guys, but LOOGYs do that. The problem was that he was more likely to walk a lefthander than a righthander, and more likely to give up an extra-base hit to a lefty than a righty. Of course, the righties he faced were often pretty weak hitters (that’s why he got to face them) but he might be in the wrong job. He probably has to be on the roster or allowed to leave as a free agent, though he might also be a trade chit. A small one.

Macay McBride looks like a natural LOOGY, though. He was death on lefthanded hitters (.172/.226/.207) and a dead man against righties (.433/.500/.467). He’s got great stuff, but right now, at least, doesn’t look like he can move beyond that role. You know how Bobby likes to see the ball on the ground; McBride allowed just two extra-base hits, both doubles. He should be the lefthanded specialist next year but has to pitch well in spring.

Blaine Boyer has one of those mysterious arm injuries that sometimes just linger on. Mysterious arm injuries are bad news. I keep thinking of Kevin McGlinchy, whose promising career was essentially ended (he’s still bouncing around the minors) after basically a season’s worth of pitching by an injury. Boyer was very good for the Braves last year, and losing him put a big dent on an already stretched bullpen. If he’s healthy, he should be in the bullpen mix next year and may have closer potential. Check out his August numbers, before his arm went bad: 13 1/3 IP, 12 K, 4 H, 2 BB, 0 R.

Joey Devine… Sigh. He’s another guy who isn’t fully healthy, and a guy who’s got the goat label for losing a postseason game a couple of months into his professional career. I don’t know that he’s ready, and I don’t know about him as an elite reliever. His pitching style looks to me like he’s going to be vulnerable to lefties, that he’s always going to be vulnerable to lefties, and that you’re not going to be able to use him as a closer because of that. (“Delgado steps in. Devine sets… Here’s the pitch… Oh. Oh my God. I think Delgado just hit LaRoche’s head off. Yes, the ball took LaRoche’s head with it, that’s a three run homer.”)

I mentioned in the last entry that Chuck James and Anthony Lerew both might wind up in the pen eventually. But I don’t think that they’ve reached that stage yet. The Braves are going to have to look elsewhere for relievers. There are two ways to go about this:

  • Spend money and/or talent to bring in an elite reliever, like Wagner as a free agent.
  • Bring in a bunch of guys with something to prove and let them fight it out.

Of course, with the Braves’ bullpen, I don’t think that just one reliever can do it. I’d like to get Wagner, but I don’t see it happening. Importing someone like Todd Jones (as a free agent) or Danys Baez (in trade) would be a mistake. The Braves have traded for three Other People’s Closers in the last two seasons. These three are the first three players discussed above. That just doesn’t work. Jones and Baez are exactly the same sort of pitcher as Kolb, Reitsma, and Farnsworth — good relievers who had big years after stumbling into closer situations — and are likely to decline. I’ll suggest Trevor Hoffman, a great reliever, but he’s going to be 38 years old and throws in the eighties now; how much is left in that tank? None of the other top guys is supposed to be on the market.

So you can bring in lots of guys and hope some catch fire. That might work to bring in bullpen depth, but I think you need someone at the top of the pen. Can you bridge the gap? Bring in a top setup man, someone who doesn’t make closer money yet, and give him the chance. I’ve seen Scot Shields mentioned. I don’t know that the Angels would do that, but that’s the idea.

Actually, I have no idea what the Braves will do. I expect at least one trade for a reliever (because they’ve done that before each of the last three seasons) but beyond that? Who knows. I’m actually at the stage where I’d like them to just have open tryouts among everybody in the system and put the two guys who throw the hardest in there and see what happens. ‘Cause what we’re doing isn’t working.