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The bullpen situation

Okay...Eddie Guardado has signed a minor league deal.  The reality, though, is that he's going to end up on the 25 man roster unless he gets hurt.  He's a lock for the bullpen.

At this point, you have to figure there will be a 7 man bullpen, and barring injury, four spots are pretty much locks:

Frankie Francisco

Eddie Guardado

C.J. Wilson

Josh Rupe

I have to think that both Derrick Turnbow and Willie Eyre are more likely than not to end up making the bullpen, although neither is a slam dunk (although I still think that if Eyre wasn't close to a lock, he wouldn't have been put on the 40 man roster).

If Turnbow and Eyre both stick, you have to figure that the last spot is going to go to a true long-man type.  Dustin Nippert seems to be the most likely to end up there, although if Scott Feldman moves to the pen (which would only seem likely if Ben Sheets get signed), he'd probably fill that role.  Kason Gabbard also would seem to be in the mix for a long man spot.

I realize that this isn't an awe-inspiring bullpen.  But the interesting thing about bullpens is that most of the ones that end up doing really well have some guys pop up out of nowhere.  Really, that's what makes bullpens so can often times dig up a guy as an NRI or as a fringe prospect who can have some things click in the pen and become a quality reliever.

Look at the 2004 team, that had a bad rotation and an outstanding bullpen.  You had Francisco Cordero, whom everyone expected would do well; Carlos Almanzar, an NRI; Frankie Francisco, a guy who wasn't even on the radar after being picked up from Chicago the season before via trade and posting a 7+ ERA in AA; Brian Shouse, a 35 year old LOOGY with one good major league season under his belt; and Ron Mahay, a former NRI and converted outfielder who had kicked around the league for a while.

Those guys logged 60% of the bullpen innings for the Rangers in 2004, and were the reason that the bullpen was arguably the best in the A.L. that season.  Having guys show up and put it together -- Almanzar and Francisco, in particular -- was the key.

If you are looking for the 2009 version of Almanzar, it may well be Turnbow.  The conventional wisdom on Turnbow was that he had one great season with the Brewers and has sucked ever since.  The reality is that his peripherals really haven't been terrible, despite some mediocre numbers, and if he's healthy, he's a reasonable bounce-back candidate.

And the 2009 version of Francisco?  There are a lot of possibilities, really, due to the high number of live arms the Rangers have hanging around.  John Bannister is generating a ton of buzz, and while I don't think he's much of a candidate to make the team out of spring training, he, like Francisco c.2004, has limited experience above A ball and will likely start the season in the minor league pen, but also like Francisco, could end up coming quick if things click for him.

Guillermo Moscoso is a possibility as well, a guy like Bannister who has had injury problems but appears to have put them behind him.  The organization says they are going to look at him in the rotation, and he supposedly has expressed a strong preference for staying in the rotation rather than pitching out of the pen, but his arsenal could well be best suited for a bullpen role.

And there's also Thomas Diamond...everyone knows his story, big guy, big arm, underwent T-J surgery in 2006.  He's largely fallen off the radar, but if he can get a reliable offspeed pitch going this spring, he could be someone who slides into a setup role and produces immediately.

Plus, as has been discussed before, Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz are on the fast track, and either or both could end up pitching at TBIA, either in a rotation or bullpen role, before the season is up.  While their futures lie in the rotation, I could definitely see one of them -- particularly Feliz -- in a Joba-esque setup role while being groomed for the rotation going forward.

In any case, I think the bullpen picture is starting to come into focus.  I'm not expecting a repeat of 2004 or 2007, when the bullpen was dominant and carried the pitching staff.  But I do think an improvement over 2008 is likely, and there are some interesting pieces there that create the possibility of something really nice happening out there in 2009.