Assessing 2015 Bullpen Candidates

After the 2014 season ends, which can't come soon enough, like every other team in baseball the Texas Rangers will have holes to fill. The rotation needs a couple arms to offset Yu Darvish and Derek Holland, the lineup could use an everyday DH, and depending on what the club decides to do with Alex Rios, another corner outfielder as well. 

One area that doesn't require assistance is the bullpen. Even though Texas are 31 games below .500, their makeshift relief corp has not been the issue, and should continue to be an area of strength moving forward. This season their collective ERA is 4.14 -- 25th in MLB -- but they've provided +3.7 fWAR -- tied for 10th in MLB -- and its best pitcher, Joakim Soria, was traded over a month ago. With a hodgepodge collection comprised mostly of young guys getting their first cup of coffee in the big leagues, it goes to show just how cheap relief pitching goes for. But it won't be like that forever in Arlington. 

Conflated with the influx of youth -- pitchers trying to make names for themselves -- are bullpen fixtures currently riding the limitless wave of bodies on the disabled list. These include Tanner Scheppers and Alexi Ogando (what happened to him?), though for depth purposes I'd be remiss not to mention lefties Aaron Poreda (who showed brilliant flashes) and Pedro Figueroa (whose season was basically finished before it got started). 

Robbie Ross, who will throw his obligatory four September starts before reality sets in, will also be thrown into the mix of bullpen options once the season concludes. 

That essentially gives the Rangers three locks for the 2015 bullpen: Scheppers, Ogando, Ross.

To team with them, we have to look at Neftali Feliz, who in spite of doing nothing worthwhile in 2014 has to be considered a strong favorite to make the team in 2015, barring trade.

That leaves the Rangers with three realistic spots they need to fill. Based on 2014 performance, Shawn Tolleson has to be considered a frontrunner for a low-leverage role. In his first full MLB season this year, Tolleson's produced a healthy 2.77 ERA in 65.0 IP, with a strong 64/25 K/UIBB ratio. Particularly in the second half when the games haven't meant a damn thing, he's been one of the club's few bright spots. 

Roman Mendez is another option; he throws easy mid-90's gas with no second pitch to speak of, but it's still the type of profile you look for when filling out a bullpen. He's thus far held his own in the run prevention department, carrying a 1.80 ERA in 25 innings on the bump, though to sustain success he'll have to do better than the 18/15 K/UIBB line he's posted. Mendez is a wild card, but velocity is the recipe to suspect secondary offerings, and Mike Maddux works well with pitchers who give him something to work with. 

Away from them, Neal Cotts is a free agent after this year, though my guess is since the Rangers didn't move him by the July 31st deadline, or the August 31st waiver deadline, the two sides have mutual interest in a one- or two-year marriage following 2014. (I'm actually surprised there wasn't an extension after his brilliant '13 campaign, but I suppose it doesn't really matter either way.)

The rest of the candidates are young and still on the farm. Matt West, Will Lamb, and hard-throwers Keone Kela and Corey Knebel (unless he needs arm surgery) each have semi-realistic shots of breaking camp on the Opening Day roster, though Knebel would stand to be the favorite. 

In no small way, without even looking at which relievers will be free agents after 2014, the Rangers have a ton of serviceable arms who can provide quality production out of the bullpen next year. Relief pitching is the least valuable commodity in baseball, so the distinction of a "proven closer" or "setup man" don't really apply. If you've got the talent, you can get major league hitters out pitching inning-by-inning. 

And the Rangers have the talent, even if we don't know exactly how it's going to shake out.