October 10, 2011 at 1:12 pm by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
The biggest strength the Braves had all year ended up letting the team down toward the final weeks of the season, but that should not cause a widespread worry about that specific strength going forward. The Braves have a surplus of young and impressive bullpen arms, which is exactly what a team with a mid-level payroll wants out of that area. Spending on bullpen arms is very risky, so having cost controlled relievers limits the amount of risk in that area and allows the front office to spend that money elsewhere.
The team has stated that Kris Medlen could start or relieve, but I would be more than surprised to see him placed in the rotation rather than the bullpen. I expect he will take the role that Arodys Vizcaino had while he was in the majors, which was as a multi-inning reliever that can be used in various situations. Vizcaino should move to the seventh inning, if they do indeed choose to leave him in the bullpen.
Eric O’Flaherty is coming off a tremendous season, and it would be silly to think that Gonzalez will use him as a lefty-specialist, but he will likely be put in less high-leverage situations than he has been this season. With Medlen and Vizcaino as potential mainstays, the need for O’Flaherty to work specifically the seventh inning regardless of the handedness simply is not there.
Peter Moylan should be non-tendered due to his price and injury history, but his skill set was not particularly necessary either. If the team wants to have a right-handed ground ball specialist that should only face right-handers, Cory Gearrin can fill that role adequately.
Here are six of the seven members I expect to be in the bullpen next season.
Christian Martinez, Kris Medlen, Arodys Vizcaino, Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel.
The remaining spot would go to Derek Lowe if he is unable to be traded, — since Wren has stated he will not be in the 2012 rotation — Anthony Varvaro, or Cory Gearrin. I am rather indifferent on who between Varvaro or Gearrin should get the last spot, and would hope that Lowe is traded to avoid the fiasco of having him in the bullpen at all. Varvaro offers high strikeout potential while Gearrin is basically a Moylan clone. Both have upside, but with the depth of the bullpen neither should pitch in many high-leverage innings.
Due to the depth the team has, there really is no need to trade for or sign any bullpen arms this winter. The current group of cost controlled arms can do the job as well as any other bullpen in the game. I understand and expect a signing of a lefty to a minor-league contract to backup O’Flaherty and Venters, but this player will have only a small affect on the bullpen and will only make the opening day roster if injuries occur. The bullpen will be a strength again, and should be for many years going forward.