Joaquin Benoit - 37 year old Benoit has never entered a season as a team’s closer, but has gotten the job done in the 9th before. 24 saves in 2013 when he was promoted to the closer role in Detroit and 11 with the Padres last year. So, for the first time he will begin the season closing out games for his club. There’s no competition for the job, but at his age some wonder if he’ll hold up for a full season. He held up pretty well last year, so this is a casual worry not a serious one.
Kevin Quackenbush - Last year Quackenbush went from AAA closer to injury replacement to reliever to regular bullpen arm to reliable setup guy to fill-in major league closer over the course of the season. He’s not the hard throwing type you expect in late innings, but he’s deceptive enough to strikeout guys at the rates you’d expect of top reliever. I think most expect him to get the nod in 8th innings this year setting up for Benoit.
Shawn Kelley - The Yankees trusted Kelley with many of their 7th innings and he might get the same role with the Padres this season. A Kelley, Quackenbush, Benoit trio would certainly put a bunch of K’s up on the old insert sponsor name here K board.
Dale Thayer - Bud Black has trusted Thayer on and off with late innings roles. At one point a couple years back he was the guy that filled in when the closer got hurt. Thayer will still come in for some high leverage innings, but probably not as the normal 7th or 8th inning guy to start the season.
Nick Vincent - Like Thayer, Vincent has moved in and out of the traditional 7th and 8th inning setup roles. His stuff doesn’t work as well against left handed hitters as it does against right handed ones and that can leave a reliever vulnerable in late innings when other options have been exhausted. Fortunately most of the NL West’s best hitters are right handed so he still can make an impact against the middle of the order if called upon in a big situation.
Alex Torres - When you’re a lefty specialist walks can be a big problem especially if it’s the lefties you are walking. Torres ran into this problem during last year and so his grip on the lefty specialist role may be tenuous. He’s out of options though so it seems likely he’ll start the year with the job, but will Black and Balsley watching him closely.
Brandon Morrow/Odrisamer Despaigne
There is only enough room for 7 relievers in today’s modern 12 man pitching staffs. I listed 6 spots that appear to be taken, so the remaining spot comes down to these other candidates. Maurer has an option year, but he also has a big arm that may force the Padres to put him in the ‘pen to start the year. The loser of the 5th starter competition between Morrow and Despaigne could be ‘pen-bound, especially if it’s Morrow who can’t be optioned to AAA like Despaigne can. Erlin has worked out of the bullpen before and could again in the unlikely case that they tap him as the best guy to the long man. Campos and Garces both made their debuts at the end of last season and are probably ticket for AAA, although the left handed Garces could force things if he does well and Torres doesn’t.
These guys are longshots since it requires some hard choices to remove someone else off the roster to add them. Elbert pitched for the Dodgers in fitz and starts over the last 7 seasons, but his southpaw-ness makes him an interesting candidate. Jackson has never made the majors before and hasn’t done that well in his latest minor league campaigns so he’s the longest of longshots. Lane is probably more of a candidate to fill in for injury in the rotation than the bullpen, but his newfound rubber arm could end up anywhere under the right circumstances. Mateo has a live arm and has done well in minors recently, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he ends up in the major league ‘pen at some point in 2015. The Padres have developed Rearick for a couple years after acquiring him from the Rays and the lefty looks like he could be a decent bullpen option somewhere in the near future. Valverde is trying to revive his career with the Padres after flaming out elsewhere, but a crowded bullpen picture will make it hard for the comeback to start on Opening Day 2015.