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Padres 2016 Season Preview: Bullpen Outlook

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So many relievers, so few roster spots! Who will make the opening day roster? Let's run down the candidates and I'll give you my best guess.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Opening Day is less than two weeks away. Do you know where your bullpen is? I'm not certain that Darren Balsley does yet, but there are a myriad of players competing for those oh-so-precious roster spots. A few are familiar, but there has been a lot of turnover this offseason. Some of the guys in camp are a lock to be lining up on the chalk on that first day, but all of these guys have an opportunity to contribute this year.

San Diego Padres v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Happy Trails To You

Before we go over the candidates for this season's roster, let's run down some of the players who are no longer with the team.

Craig Kimbrel was the cherry on the top of the Prellerpalooza sundae. He welcomed us to the jungle with his shutdown closer talents. While he didn't have a great year, he still maintained his reputation as one of the premium closers in the game... which AJ Preller parlayed into a trade with the Red Sox for SS Javier Guerra, CF Manuel Margot, INF Carlos Asuaje, and RHP Logan Allen. A lock-down closer is a luxury for a rebuilding team, but four top-shelf prospects can form the foundation for a farm system overhaul.

Joaquin Benoit was a bright spot on the 2015 squad. The former closer held down the eighth inning with aplomb. Considering the state of the franchise, his future value to the Padres than any 2016 contributions. Preller slyly picked up his 2016 option, the flipped him to the Mariners for RHP Enyel De Los Santos and INF Nelson Ward. Value indeed.

Shawn Kelley was another nice surprise in the 2015 bullpen. While it might have been nice to have brought his services back for another year, the five-year, $15M contract the Nationals signed him for is a sign of the times, where any live arm can get a big payday. A major theme of the 2016 Padres seems to involve growing and maximizing value. If they can find a replacement for Kelley's contribution at a fraction of the price, that's a positive value decision.

Dale Thayer was very good for the Padres from 2011-2014, but he lost his mojo in 2015. I thought that Vincent-Thayer-Quackenbush had potential, but it wasn't meant to be. The Padres released him after the season and he is now trying to make the Baltimore Orioles' roster.

Odrisamer Despaigne had filthy stuff at times, and at other times his stuff was just junk. The Cuban junkballer showed great promise in 2014, but struggled mightliy in 2015. He still showed flashes of excellence from his swingman role, but all too often we were cringing when he came in to the game. In another value decision, Despaigne was traded to the Orioles for righty fireballer Jean Cosme. While he might not be a high-level prospect, Cosme is young and shows the kind of promise that might just need some development to become a useful player down the road.

MLB: San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Incumbents

Only a handful of faces are held over from last year's bullpen. That isn't a bad thing. While the 'pen was a consistently solid part of the team in previous years, the 2015 bullpen was often a source of frustration. They've cut the borderline guys, and now we have a short list of holdovers who can maintain some continuity and some balance this season.

Kevin Quackenbush has been considered a closer candidate in the past. A hard thrower with good control, expect a heavy dose of "Quack Attack" in late innings this year.

Nick Vincent is a Ramona native and is more than a feel-good story. With a track record of above-average strand rates, the gritty righty is a stabilizing force.

Brandon Maurer's chances of making the starting rotation were officially squashed after an ERA on the wrong side of 20 after three rough starts. While his aspirations to start might still have life, he will most likely be in the bullpen in a similar role as last year. His powerful fastball-slider combo was lethal both with the Padres in 2015 and with the Mariners in the previous two seasons.

Brandon Morrow was the Padres' most effective pitcher at the start of the 2015 season. A shoulder injury cut his season short, and a bout with valley fever has him off to a slow start this spring. Back with the team on a minor league contract, once he's healthy, he'll be up with the team in some capacity. He might be a rotation candidate, but he'll probably be stretched out with swingman duties.

Cory Mazzoni came to the Padres in the Alex Torres trade with the Mets. In limited time last year, he got rocked pretty hard. Scouts love his stuff and his makeup, so he will get another chance to make a step forward this year.

Jon Edwards was the return from Texas in the Will Venable trade. The converted outfielder has a power arm and can rack up some K's. He's looked good at times this spring, and the coaching staff is working on the inconsistencies.

Leonel Campos is a journeyman minor leaguer who saw brief time with the Padres each of the last two seasons. With one option season left, 2016 is his last chance to make the transition up to the MLB level.

Tayron Guerrero is a tall, powerful pitcher with devastating stuff. If he could whittle down the walks, he could be a beast of a reliever. He's on the 40-man roster, but he'll likely stay in the minors through the season to sharpen his control.

Seattle Mariners v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

New Faces, Vol. I - Veterans

Fernando Rodney was the biggest free agent addition to the pitching staff. While he might not have the rock star prowess of a Craig Kimbrel, the cocked-brimmed archer brings a swagger to the mound that will hopefully be backed up by his successes of 2012-2014 to anchor the staff.

Carlos Villanueva's career has seen him start in Milwaukee, get converted to a reliever, then back to a swingman role with the Blue Jays and Cubs, then back to a reliever last season with the Cardinals. He was signed as a free agent, and apparently he had been courted by the Padres in the past. He noted that Trevor Hoffman was a big influence on his early career when they were teammates on the Brewers. The veteran brings the kind of leadership and work ethic that Andy Green beams about, and hopefully he can bring some of the winning attitude of his last stop along with him.

Drew Pomeranz came to the Padres in the Yonder Alonso trade as a project lefty with serious upside. As a starter with the Rockies, he struggled. As a reliever with the A's, he struggled as well. There's reason for hope, since he has a very similar profile to another former Oakland A: Tyson Ross. His fastball and sharp slider are mirror images of the pitches that Ross brought with him, as are his platoon splits. If Darren Balsley can coach the platoon tendencies out of him, he might make it back in to the rotation. Until then, he's a force against right-handed hitters with experience in going multiple innings.

Casey Janssen is a former closer who has seen success with the Blue Jays and Nationals. While he's coming off a down year, he could provide some depth for Rodney later this season. He's been effective at times this spring, and he looks healthy.

Matt Thornton spent most of his career with the White Sox, but has seen service time with the Mariners, Yankees, Red Sox, and Nationals as well. The 6'6" lefty has yet to surrender a run this spring and is making a strong case for a roster spot breaking camp. Like Janssen, he's not on the 40-man roster, so a corresponding move would need to be made to make room. Given his experience and his performance, he might be forcing such a move.

MLB: Spring Training-Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

New Faces, Vol. II - Minor Leaguers

Buddy Baumann is a career minor leaguer who was signed to a major league contract. The lefty has good strikeout rates and seems to be a gamer on the mound. While his stuff doesn't jump off the page, all accounts speak highly of his makeup on and off the field. He's working through a back issue, so he might not make the opening day roster, but his spot on the 40-man means that he'll get in the action sooner or later.

Ryan Buchter is another lefty on the 40-man like Baumann, but he has some MLB service time - one inning with the Braves in 2014. He has a career of racking up crazy strikeout rates paired with dangerous control issues. If they can rein him in, he'll be a nice weapon to deploy.

Jose Torres was the "forgotten man" in the Yonder Alonso trade, coming from the A's along with Drew Pomeranz and Rule 5 draftee Jabari Blash. The Venezuelan lefty is also on the 40-man roster, but has never pitched above single-A. Still, he has a talented left arm, so there may be a role for him in the near future.

Luis Perdomo was taken from the Cardinals in the Rule 5 draft. Considered by many to be the most talented player taken that day, the raw righty projects as a starter but would slot in the bullpen if he stays with the team. Like Smith and Martin below, he needs to stay on the active 25-man roster or be offered back to his original team. He's a high-risk player, but the reward may be worth it. He may be used situationally through the season to shelter him until they can stash him as a project in the minors for a couple of years.

Blake Smith came from the Dodgers in the Rule 5 draft. The converted outfielder has a lot in common with Jon Edwards above, but adds a nasty 12-to-6 curveball that he's still learning how to best deploy. They've been using him in some high-leverage situations this spring, and he's stranded runners at an impressive rate. His stat line this spring doesn't jump off the page, but

Josh Martin came from the Indians in the Rule 5 draft, and he brings a devastating curveball that has impressed coaches throughout camp. Like Blake Smith, he's been successful in some high leverage outings this spring. With only seven or eight roster spots, Perdomo, Martin, and Smith all have their work cut out to stay with the organization.

Jose Dominguez has been lights-out this spring, with a fastball that can tough triple digits and filthy breaking stuff. He's seen MLB action in each of the past three years with the Dodgers and most recently with the Rays. While he's on a minor league contract, his combination of strikeout power and experience could earn him a call up this season.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

...so now what?

That's my list of bullpen candidates for 2016. I count twenty names above, for seven or eight roster spots. Certainly more names will creep up through the minors (Carlos Pimentel, Johnny Hellweg, etc.) and we all know that Preller is capable of anything when it comes to free agents, waiver pickups, or trades. Your guess is as good as mine as to who makes the team, but here's my best guess:

  • Fernando Rodney
  • Carlos Villanueva
  • Kevin Quackenbush
  • Brandon Maurer
  • Drew Pomeranz
  • Matt Thornton
  • Luis Perdomo

Andy Green seems focused on performance. I don't see him as being the type to let a guy struggle through a few outings to get his feet under him; he'd rather give someone else those reps while wrinkles are ironed out in the minors or on the side. Rodney is the closer until he loses the job. Quackenbush profiles nicely as a setup man, and Maurer was nails in that role last year. Thornton could be a LOOGY but he has the stuff and the makeup to handle anything thrown his way. Pomeranz is a project that can be used against lefty-heavy lineups and I expect to see him stretched as his swingman role grows through the season. Perdomo can be hidden for mop-up duties, but his talent potential is tantalizing enough to keep him on the roster for future development.

The bullpen listed above is a nice balance of experience and youth, with lots of strikeout power from both sides of the rubber. Preller has done a pretty nice job of signing veteran depth, both at the major and minor league levels, to balance the high-ceiling talent that he can distribute up and down the levels of the organization. There is potential here for a shut-down bullpen, a nice return to form to what we've come to expect under pitching coach Darren Balsley.