2015 AL East preview

March 6, 2015

Baltimore Orioles — It’s a bullpen bonanza in Baltimore, as the Orioles return seven pitchers from last year, a group that combined to throw 80% of the innings out of the ‘pen last year. Zach Britton saved 37 games last season after winning the job and will be back as the closer again in 2015. Darren O’Day should get the bulk of the eighth-inning chances with Andrew Miller in New York, with Tommy Hunter and lefty Brian Matusz competing for the seventh inning.

Starting 2015 hierarchy: Britton | O’Day | Hunter.
Holds candidates: O’Day, Matusz.

Boston Red Sox — Despite heading towards 40, Koji Uehara got a two-year, $18 million deal from the Sox to remain their closer. Behind the seemingly ageless Uehara are Junichi Tazawa and Edward Mujica, who will compete for the eighth inning. Mujica got most of the save opportunities at the end of the season when the Sox shut Uehara down, and has more closing experience than Tazawa. 2011 draftee Matt Barnes might be relevant this year if Boston chooses to move him to the bullpen, and Alexi Ogando is also around.

Starting 2015 hierarchy: Uehara | Mujica | Tazawa.
Holds candidates: Tazawa, Craig Breslow.

New York Yankees — With David Robertson departed to the AL Central, the Yankees went out and got Andrew Miller. However, despite a $36 million deal, Miller isn’t the team’s closer . . . at least not yet. He’s in a battle for the job with Dellin Betances, who impressed last year with a 1.40 ERA, setting the Yankee record for strikeouts by a reliever with 135. Betances has terrific stuff and is probably the better pitcher, but it’s possible that Joe Girardi uses him more strategically, in the highest-leverage spots. Girardi could even platoon the two based on matchups. Former Brave David Carpenter projects to be the seventh-inning guy.

Starting 2015 hierarchy: Betances | Miller | Carpenter.
Holds candidates: Carpenter, Adam Warren.

Tampa Bay Rays — Joe Maddon is gone, which perhaps means a more stable bullpen in 2015. Jake McGee will lead that group when he returns from elbow surgery, as he impressed as the closer last year when he finally got the role for good. Grant Balfour struggled mightily last season but still wants the closer job. He’ll have to compete with newly-acquired Kelvin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri, as well as Brad Boxberger, who had a strong 2014. In addition, Jeff Beliveau had 28 strikeouts in 24 innings last season, and might be the only lefty on the team’s Opening Day roster.

Starting 2015 hierarchy: Balfour | Boxberger | Jepsen.
Holds candidates: Boxberger, Beliveau.

Toronto Blue Jays — With Casey Janssen no longer the Jays’ closer, Brett Cecil and Aaron Sanchez are the top candidates for the job, but John Gibbons isn’t committing to either man yet. For now, we think Cecil has the edge because Sanchez could still snag a spot in the rotation, but it’s worth noting that Cecil was scratched from Friday’s spring training game with soreness in his shoulder. Aaron Loup and Todd Redmond are likely to pitch middle relief in front of the eventual closer, with Steve Delabar also in play.

Starting 2015 hierarchy: Cecil | Sanchez | Loup.
Holds candidates: Loup, Redmond.

2015 AL Central preview

March 6, 2015

Chicago White Sox – Chicago’s bullpen was a mess right from the start in 2014. To ensure that didn’t happen again, the Sox went out and signed former Yankees closer David Robertson. Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam, who split the closer’s job at the end of 2014, should slide into set-up roles in front of Robertson. The White Sox also added veteran lefty Zach Duke in the off-season, and he could see some time in the later innings.

Starting 2015 hierarchy: Robertson | Petricka | Putnam.
Holds candidates: Petricka, Putnam.

Cleveland Indians – The Indians return the core of their bullpen for 2015. Cody Allen took over for John Axford in the middle of 2014 and never looked back. Manager Terry Francona has nothing but good things to say about Allen, who will start a season as closer for the first time in his young career. Brian Shaw and Scott Atchison did a nice job in the 7th and 8th innings last year and should return to those roles to start this upcoming season. Nick Hagadone could be a guy to watch, as he is a big, hard-throwing lefty with good strikeout potential.

Starting 2015 hierarchy: Allen | Shaw | Atchison.
Holds candidates: Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski.

Detroit Tigers – Joe Nathan struggled all year in 2014 and hopes to bounce back in 2015. He’ll start the year as the closer, but Joakim Soria will be right behind him if he slips up. The Tigers brought Joba Chamberlain back, and also signed lefty Tom Gorzelanny. Bruce Rondon is one of the most interesting members of the Tigers bullpen, a young flamethrower coming off Tommy John surgery.

Starting 2015 hierarchy: Nathan | Soria | Chamberlain.
Holds candidates: Soria, Gorzellany.

Kansas City Royals – The Royals bullpen was one of the main reasons for their successful 2015 season. Closer Greg Holland combined with Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera to form arguably the best relief tandem in baseball. All three guys will return in 2015 and, if that wasn’t good enough, they’ll also get Luke Hochevar back. Hochevar missed all of 2014, but was a dominant set-up man in 2013. Tim Collins was in line to be the Royals’ lefty specialist, but he was pulled from Wednesday’s spring training game and may need Tommy John surgery. Rookie phenom Brandon Finnegan may wind up in the bullpen as a result.

Starting 2015 hierarchy: Holland | Davis | Herrera.
Holds candidates: Davis, Herrera.

Minnesota Twins  – Glen Perkins missed the end of the 2014 season, but he’s healthy now, and ready to close again for the Twins. Righty Casey Fien and lefty Brian Duensing will likely start the season in the back end of the bullpen. Tim Stauffer is competing for the fifth spot in the rotation, but if he doesn’t win the job, he could also be an option in the later innings.

Starting 2015 hierarchy: Perkins | Fien | Duensing.
Holds candidates: Fien, Duensing.

2015 AL West preview

March 6, 2015

Houston Astros — Houston bolstered its bullpen again this offseason, bringing in ex-A Luke Gregerson (3 years, $18.5 million) and dubious All-Star Pat Neshek (2 years, $12.5 million) to challenge incumbent Chad Qualls, the oldest player in Astros camp, for the closer role. We think Gregerson has the edge over Qualls, Neshek, and Josh Fields (in that order). New manager A.J. Hinch is confident in all his options and won’t rush into a decision.

Starting 2015 hierarchy: Gregerson | Qualls | Neshek.
Holds candidates: Neshek, Tony Sipp.

Los Angeles Angels — Huston Street (acquired last July from San Diego) and Joe Smith have the last two innings locked down. After the departure of Kevin Jepsen to Tampa, the Angels have their eye on Mike Morin as their next seventh-inning man. 23-year-old Cam Bedrosian could have an increased role later this year as well, and if Hector Santiago doesn’t make the rotation, he might find a spot as a lefty reliever.

Starting 2015 hierarchy: Street | Smith | Morin.
Holds candidates: Smith, Fernando Salas.

Oakland A’s — With Sean Doolittle starting the year on the disabled list — and sleeping on the couch after his semifinal loss in the #FaceofMLB contest — the uber-durable Tyler Clippard will start the season as the closer. Clippard led the NL in holds in 2011, 2013, and 2014, and saved 32 games for Washington in 2012. Lefty Eric O’Flaherty and righty Ryan Cook will back him up, along with Dan Otero and Fernando Abad. If the ambidextrous Pat Venditte can somehow make the team, he could set a new record for appearances — in games, and in Closer Monkey updates.

Starting 2015 hierarchy: Clippard | Cook | O’Flaherty.
Holds candidates: Cook, Clippard (eventually).

Seattle Mariners — Almost everyone from Seattle’s surprisingly effective 2014 bullpen is returning this season, including Fernando Rodney, who led MLB and set a Mariners record with his 48 saves, and inspired the Little League champions to skew their hats and fire imaginary arrows. Danny Farquhar and Yoervis Medina will be back in their set-up roles too, ensuring that Seattle’s pen will once again lead the league in Scrabble points (non-Rzepczynski division).

Starting 2015 hierarchy: Rodney | Farquhar | Medina.
Holds candidates: Charlie Furbush, Medina.

Texas Rangers — The Texas hierarchy has seen its fair share of adversity. Neftali Feliz, low strikeout rate and all, is finally starting a season as the closer after his 2013 Tommy John surgery. Tanner Scheppers, a great reliever in 2013, hurt his elbow last year after starting on Opening Day for the Rangers. Although he still wants to start, the team will keep him in the eighth this year. And Shawn Tolleson overcame back surgery in 2013 to be Texas’s most consistent reliever last season. Meanwhile, young Alex Claudio looks like the top lefty option for new manager Jeff Banister. Kyuji Fujikawa, another veteran of Tommy John surgery, also has an outside shot at high-leverage innings.

Starting 2015 hierarchy: Feliz | Scheppers | Tolleson.
Holds candidates: Scheppers, Tolleson.