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Should we be worried about the Tigers bullpen?

Cameron, Patrick, and Fielder'sChoice chat about the current condition of the relief corps.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has changed in the last year. One year ago, Tigers fans' biggest concerns were about how Miguel Cabrera would recover from offseason surgery, whether Brad Ausmus was a competent manager, and whether the assembled bullpen would be sufficient for a team with playoff aspirations.

OK, so maybe not that much has changed.

This year, the bullpen is either totally revamped or the same crew that failed last year, depending on who you talk to. Either way, it's still a concern. On one hand, Tom Gorzelanny was the only notable offseason acquisition. On the other hand, the Tigers look to be adding a big contribution in Joakim Soria, and are hoping for some help from Bruce Rondon, Joel Hanrahan, and an island of misfit toys. Three of our staff members recently got together and discussed this subject.

Fielder’sChoice: Do you guys consider Gorzelanny to be a "probable" member of the bullpen (with Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria, and Al Alburquerque), or would you put him in the odds-and-ends group with everyone else?

Cameron J. Kaiser: Gorzelanny has to be a probable. Blaine Hardy and Ian Krol are the project lefties simply because they have shown flashes, but haven't proven anything. At best, Gorzelanny is a proven commodity.

FC: That's pretty much what I was thinking, but the way his contract is structured actually makes me wonder about the team's confidence. But he's got to be a probable. Even if they sign Phil Coke later today.

Cameron: They aren't signing Phil Coke.

FC: Yeah, and they won't re-acquire Don Kelly through waivers later this spring either.

Cameron: Well I mean that move is the right thing to do. He's Diamond Don.

FC: Why not bring back Phlatulent Phil then?

Cameron: I wouldn't be opposed to a minor league contract for him. I love Cokey, I just don't think they want him back.

Patrick O’Kennedy: Coke's WHIP with Detroit, five seasons: 1.44, 1.45, 1.67, 1.65, 1.53

FC: I count 23 guys that I would call a bullpen candidate. Only four are considered probable for a spot, including Gorzelanny.

That's 19 guys to compete for the other three spots.

Cameron: Nathan, Soria, Al Al, Gorzelanny, 50 feet of crap.

Actually, Nathan is in the "50 feet of crap" category, too.

Out of the 19 guys Detroit brought on-board, a few of them have to succeed. There's no way the law of percentages will let all of them suck. The Tigers' bullpen will be better this year based off the volatility of relief pitchers. A few of those guys will over-perform.

FC: The question is whether the Tigers can effectively identify and deploy the guys who over-perform.

Or if they'll just pick three guys in spring training and roll with them until they hit the DL, or the season ends

Cameron: That's all up to Ausmus, who had less than a freaking clue on how to do it last season.

FC: Someone needs to be in his ear. Probably Dombrowski or Chadd or someone higher up.

"Hey, so-and-so has struggled his last few times out, and such-and-such is looking real good down in Toledo. Let's swap them out, see what happens. We can always swap back again next week."

Shouldn't be a big deal.

Cameron: I don't care if the Tigers have to use all 19 of the bullpen arms throughout the season, as long as Ausmus is open to change, I'll be happy.

FC: There was plenty of fluctuation in the bottom of the 'pen last year. It was the top that was so rigid.

Cameron: And that's why he needs to change his philosophy.

FC: As long as two of those four "probables" are pitching well enough to fill the eighth and ninth innings, the rest of it shouldn't require much drama.

Soria and Al Al, basically.

Cameron: I don't care about seniority. If Nathan truly has lost it, then the proven closer narrative should be put to rest for good.

Patrick: The Tigers lost four games when Nathan pitched in a save situation last year.  Four.

How many teams had a closer actually blow fewer games? KC, and ???

Cameron: Saves are archaic. There isn't a single peripheral stat that says he wasn't toast.

Patrick: Not just saves. Nathan had seven blown saves. Blown games show up in the loss column. It's what actually matters, even if the result is not entirely within the pitcher's control.

Patrick: Dombrowski is hell bent in relying heavily on Bruce Rondon again.

He's down in the count, 0-2.

Cameron: Yes, Rondon shouldn't be counted on to do crap this year. A pitcher's worst season is historically the season coming off Tommy John surgery.

FC: I don't see the "heavily" part, Patrick. At best, he's being penciled in behind Al Al for the sixth inning.

Patrick: Heavily. He's not shy about telling us.

Our logic dictates that we discard Dombrowski's remarks and believe that he can't be relying on Rondon so much, but he is.

FC: He's not shy about telling us that he's optimistic, but actions speak loudly. He's got Nathan, Soria, and Alburquerque in front of him. I don't see that as relying heavily.

Your fourth righty is not someone you rely on.

Patrick: I don't think Alburquerque is ahead of him.

Cameron: Organization seems to be down on Al Al.

Patrick: I'm certain of that.

Al Al is still an accident waiting to happen. Wicked slider, but iffy command

Seven home runs. Ugh.

Cameron: You could say that about almost any reliever. They aren't starters for a reason.

Patrick: If Nathan implodes, they've got Soria and nothing. Not one other relief pitcher who actually pitched well for a full season last year.

Cameron: But again, they have 19 guys competing for three spots. I refuse to believe that all of those guys will stink. With that many guys, even a little bit of luck has to be on their side.

Patrick: Every team has 19 guys for the last three spots in their bullpen. The Tigers have had that every year, and they still crap out every year.

I still start with the premise that Dombrowski knows exactly what he is doing, but he favors certain types of pitchers -- big strikeout pitchers. It hasn't worked, but they've gotten by with relatively few blown games. Until the playoffs.

Cameron: Well it's not like there's a plethora of good arms available right now, and giving Andrew Miller $40 million doesn't seem very economically wise.

Patrick: Jason Frasor, Burke Badenhop, Joel Peralta were all available for pretty cheap.

Cameron: Frasor is the one that pissed me off. They could've picked him up for nothing, and the Royals had to grab him back.

Patrick: Dombrowski has always prioritized the closer. He hasn't gone hog wild with the huge contracts, but he has had a free agent or two every year with closing experience. But he doesn't invest at all for middle inning relievers, and when the Tigers need to promote someone, they're batting about .111 with their success rate.

FC: I don't think I would support investing more than about $1.5 million in a middle inning reliever, so ...

Patrick: Problem is they don't have enough late inning relievers.

Nathan, Soria, and nothing.

Cameron: Now I know this idea might seem a little crazy, but what if, now bear with me, what if instead of acquiring a proven closer, the Tigers just acquired a bunch of solid bullpen pieces and let them sort it out for who pitches when?

If only the Tigers had just signed Benoit.