Interestingly, on Monday I covered the Mariners bullpen situation and here I have their former closer, Fernando Rodney now in San Diego. Maybe that's not very interesting, but it was something to start this post off with. He is one new face in a bullpen that endured some big changes this offseason.
Gone is the once king of the closers, Craig Kimbrel, who is now in Beantown. Gone too, is one of my favorites from their 2015 bullpen, Shawn Kelley, who is in Washington. Joaquin Benoit also left (to head to Seattle, thus completing the great circle), along with all the holds they racked up last year (35 holds between Benoit and Kelley). With the free agent acquisition of Rodney, who is a 39-year-old long-time closer for the Tigers, Rays and Mariners, among others, they basically replaced a top-3 closer with a bargain basement one and never really replaced Kelley or Benoit. Technically, they did bring in another washed-up former closer in Casey Janssen and an intriguing failed starter in Drew Pomeranz, but neither is at the level of Kelley or Benoit.
So, how do we fantasy owners deal with this now messy bullpen situation? Who are the key players and what can we expect?
I'm glad I asked.
Here's a big table with 2015 stats for the most important 2016 Padres bullpen pieces, along with their career saves totals.
If you look really hard, you might be able to spot a slight advantage in career saves for one individual. Despite the fact that his 2015 numbers are not as good as almost all the others in the table, that single saves total should be enough to propel him to the top of the depth chart. Everywhere I've looked has Rodney as the closer to start the season. He's old, has had declining skills for several years, and is extremely inconsistent. However, he does have a cool arrow-shooting celebration when he gets a save, so there's that. He will start the season as the closer, but I fully expect him to lose the job by mid-May. He has gotten away with sky-high WHIP values above 1.4 every year for several years and it finally hurt him last season. His strikeout rate has fallen and his walk rate is still awful. There is just nothing but downside here and you would have to be very desperate for saves to hitch your wagon to this archer's bow. Ok, that was a weird mixed metaphor, let's move on.
Kevin "Duck" Quackenbush is up next. He has filled in at closer off and on the last couple of years, but has never taken hold of the job. Obviously, he wasn't going to pass Kimbrel, but trades and injuries opened up some chances for him that he never ran with. Instead of giving him the opportunity this year to take over for Kimbrel and Benoit, the Padres decided that a declining Rodney was a better idea. Quackenbush's numbers don't jump off the page at you, but they are far better than Rodney's. He's hardly what I would call an elite reliever, but he's good enough to hold the closer's job if he gets it and I think he will. He should be the first option after Rodney's inevitable failure. He doesn't have the elite "stuff" I like to see in a closer, but he is just good enough to not be an anchor on your rate stats.
The ghost of Casey Janssen is the next guy I want to cover. If you think Rodney is in decline, look at Janssen. Sure, his ERA, FIP, and xFIP in 2015 were a little better than Rodney, but look at the strikeout rate, swinging strike rate, and his 88-mph fastball. Those are all traits of a guy that should not be closing. At his peak, he could throw 92 mph regularly, but those days are long gone (2012, to be exact). I'm avoiding him entirely, even if he does have the PROVEN CLOSER EXPERIENCE that managers seem to love.
Nick Vincent is a guy that just kind of hangs around in this bullpen. He did pick up a save once, and I'm sure he is proud of it, but his peripheral stats weren't good enough last year to compete with the best in this bullpen. His WHIP, xFIP, ground ball %, and walk rate were poor. His shiny ERA and FIP are somewhat of a mystery given those other stats. I'm chalking it up to a very small 2015 sample. Now for the good news: his 2014 line is a thing of beauty: 55 innings, 29% K%, 5.1% BB%, 2.36 SIERA, 2.91 xFIP. That looks like a closer, even though he only throws 89-90 mph. Relievers are notoriously inconsistent from year to year, so his 2016 could certainly look more like 2014 than 2015. It is really tough to get a read on this guy. I think he will probably stay in a setup role all year, but if he starts to look like the 2014 edition, he could compete for the closer role.
Drew Pomeranz was acquired via trade from the A's and flourished in Oakland once he was moved from the rotation into the bullpen. He has always been very fragile, enduring many injuries, so the bullpen might be the best fit for him. There are rumors that the Padres might put him in the rotation, but he would be much more effective in the bullpen. If you look at the table above, he had by far the best 2015 season of all those guys. I really like his skill set and believe he is the best suited to closing of anyone in this bullpen. However, because the Padres seem to think he is a starter, I have to push him down the pecking order below Rodney, Quackenbush, and Vincent. If he is allowed to be in the bullpen, he should be first in line behind Rodney.
Leonel Campos is a guy I hadn't heard of until I looked at the Padres depth chart. He pitched that one bad inning last season in the majors, but his minor league track record is actually impressive. He had a 12.3 K/9 in AAA, with a 2.9 ERA and 2.65 FIP. He has never posted a K/9 below 11 in his minor league career. He throws 95, and projection systems love him! They all have him posting a near 11 K/9, and a low 3s ERA and FIP. He is 28, so not a prospect, but he is the young gun to keep an eye on in this relief corps. He's a long shot, for sure, but I thought his skills were worth mentioning.
Finally, we get to Brandon Maurer. This guy has been with the Padres for a while now and has spent most of his time in the bullpen. However, like Pomeranz, the Padres would like to use him as a starter, despite the fact that he has proven to be a solid relief option. Maurer doesn't have the skills of Pomeranz, so he won't be leapfrogging him in the hierarchy, if they both end up back in the 'pen. Maurer is pretty good, about the same level as Quackenbush. He has an elite curveball and a great swinging strike rate, but none of that translates to an elite strikeout rate, or even an average one. That is keeping him from becoming more useful in fantasy.
To summarize this very messy bullpen, here is the hierarchy as I see it:
Rodney -- Closer until he implodes sometime in May
Quackenbush -- First in line, but lacks fantasy closer skills, just an ok option
Pomeranz -- The best option they have, but rotation time or long relief will probably keep him from being closer
Vincent -- Has the potential in him to be closer (2014) or to be poor (2015), so I stuck him here
Maurer, Campos -- Maurer is here because he lacks strikeouts and may be starting, Campos is here because he lacks experience and we haven't seen enough against MLB hitters yet, but he could emerge as a very good reliever
I don't know if that was helpful or not in sorting out this crazy bullpen and things will almost certainly change due to performance and injuries. No one in this bullpen is a lock for anything, unlike some of the more predictable 'pens in New York, Pittsburgh, and Houston, to name a few. But hopefully, we all get some clarity and you can pick up Rodney's replacement and run with him the rest of the year. If there's one thing I am sure of, it is that Rodney will lose the job at some point. Quackenbush should be first off the wire when that happens. Tschus!