First Pitch: Bullpen Options (Literally)

It’s pretty clear that the Pirates’ bullpen plan for 2021, if there is a 2021 for MLB, is a season-long tryout camp.  More specifically, a tryout camp comprised mainly of random waiver pickups.  With the bullpen on a team that’s clearly not going to be competitive, it makes some sense, which can’t be said of dragging in dead-end position players like they did in 2020.  It might not be a bad idea to take a chance on a high-upside rehab case, like the Royals did with Trevor Rosenthal this year.  Apart from that, though, spending any money at all on an established reliever isn’t the way to go.

To that end, Ben Cherington seems to be looking for options that have . . . uh . . . options.  With Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle, I always got the feeling there was an ironclad determination to slot relievers into specific roles and stick with them as long as possible.  Of course, the flexibility was limited by the near-total failure of Huntington’s farm system to produce bullpen arms.

A lot of Cherington’s bullpen-related roster maneuvering seems to have been geared toward maintaining the ability to sift through bullpen personnel in-season.  When he took over, the Pirates had just relieved themselves of Yefry Ramirez, who had no options.  One of his earliest moves was to outright Williams Jerez, who also had no options.  More recently, he dropped the option-free Dovydas Neverauskas and Clay Holmes, although the Pirates retained Holmes on a minor league deal.

When he’s added relievers, Cherington’s found ones with options.  The relievers on the 40-man roster now, with their option status:

Kyle Crick – 1
Edgar Santana – 2
Richard Rodriguez – 3
Michael Feliz – 0
Chris Stratton – 0
Nik Turley – 0
Sam Howard – 2
Tyler Bashlor – 1
Austin Davis – 1
Ashton Goudeau – 2
Sean Poppen – 1
Blake Cederlind – 2
Geoff Hartlieb – 2
Carson Fulmer – 0
Nick Mears – 2

Of the exceptions, Stratton has earned a spot in middle relief and Turley pitched pretty well in the plague season, especially considering he’d had nearly a three-year layoff.  Feliz has a track record of missing lots of bats.  Unfortunately, when he doesn’t miss the ball tends to end up in the asteroid belt, but the Pirates must think they can make progress with that.  Fulmer doesn’t really fit in and he doesn’t seem likely to earn a spot on the active roster to open 2021.  I’m guessing the Pirates ultimately hope to sneak him through waivers.

There’s also Jandel Gustave.  He’s had a little success in the majors, but got sidetracked by Tommy John surgery.  The Pirates signed him to a minor league deal for 2021 and, on top of that, he has an option left.

Hopefully, the current front office won’t be hesitant to move relievers back and forth, and not just to make sure the team has fresh arms in the ‘pen.  Most of these guys are long shots and it’s going to take time to see which ones, if any, are going to succeed.  They seemed willing to make a lot of moves during this season, something Huntington always seemed to want to avoid.  Hopefully that will continue into next season.

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