The Twittersphere is abuzz with talk about the Texas Rangers' ongoing hunt for relief help, with the team having been linked at one point or another with just about every relief pitcher who is thought to be available. Heath Bell is, of course, the leading candidate to be here by Sunday, but the Rangers have other irons in the fire, and it is expected that at least one new reliever will be acquired by Texas by the Sunday, 3 p.m. Central deadline.
Here's the question, though...who, among the current crop of relievers, will be out once the new guy (or guys) come in?
The Rangers are currently employing a seven man bullpen, featuring Neftali Feliz, Darren Oliver, Mark Lowe, Yoshinori Tateyama, Arthur Rhodes, Tommy Hunter, and Scott Feldman.
Feliz and Oliver are pretty clearly safe, and Feldman can't be sent down. That leaves us with four candidates for the axe:*
* There will inevitably be suggestions that the Rangers go to an 8 man bullpen. This is a terrible idea. The four man bench already reduces tactical flexibility, and the rotation has pitched well enough that it is difficult enough getting the seven relievers already here enough work -- Scott Feldman, for example, has only pitched two innings since being activated from the disabled list fifteen days ago. There's no reason for an eight man bullpen.
#57 / Pitcher / Texas Rangers
Jun 07, 1983
|2011 - Mark Lowe||2-2||35||0||0||0||1||2||30.1||36||20||13||3||15||28||3.86||1.68|
Why he should stay: He's a righthanded power arm, the only true power arm in the bullpen right now other than Neftali Feliz. After a horrible start to the season that saw him get sent down to the minors, he's shown improvement and been one of the better arms in the bullpen. If Feliz is unavailable, he's the best choice to close out a game.
Why he should go: He can be optioned, which means that the Rangers can send him to the minors without risking losing him. His 3.91 FIP and 3.59 xFIP is nothing special, and his .355 BABIP suggests he may be pitching worse than his FIP indicates. And he's struggled of late, walking as many as he's struck out in July, while putting up a 4.18 xFIP.
Outlook: Lowe is probably safe. He's the tallest dwarf among this group, and the Rangers clearly are intrigued by his arm. He's got the highest average fastball velocity on the team right now, higher than even Feliz, and as long as he's not gascanning like he was in April, he should stick around, even if another power righty like Bell joins the team.
#53 / Pitcher / Texas Rangers
Oct 24, 1969
|2011 - Arthur Rhodes||3-3||31||0||0||0||1||2||23.1||28||13||13||6||8||15||5.01||1.54|
Why he should stay: He's lefthanded. And, uh...he had pitched okay over a span of about six weeks before his meltdown in the 20-6 blowout of Minnesota. Ummm...did I mention he is lefthanded?
Why he should go: He's been terrible this year, and even against lefties, he's allowing a 734 OPS.
Outlook: Rhodes would be the easy pick to go, particularly given the rumors floating around for a couple of months that the Rangers want to trade him, except for the fact that that would leave Darren Oliver as the only lefthander in the bullpen. Rhodes was acquired in large part because the Rangers didn't want to overwork Oliver, but as it stands now, Oliver still is tied for the most appearances on the team, and is second in relief innings, behind Neftali Feliz. My guess is that Rhodes survives if the Rangers add just one righthanded reliever, but if they add two guys, or a lefty, I think Rhodes is either DFA'd or put on the disabled list, while the Rangers continue to search for lefthanded relief help after the waiver deadline.
#35 / Pitcher / Texas Rangers
Jul 03, 1986
|2011 - Tommy Hunter||1-1||7||0||0||0||0||1||13.0||11||6||5||1||5||9||3.46||1.23|
Why he should stay: Remember talking about power arms in the bullpen? Tommy Hunter has the third highest average velocity of the guys in the pen right now, coming in at 93 mph. 13 innings isn't much of a sample size, but his stats have been okay during that time. And the Rangers love what Hunter brings to the mound, from a determination and mindset standpoint...you've heard talk from the organization, and Nolan Ryan in particular, about how much they like his attitude, that he's going to go out there, not be intimidated, and throw strikes.
Why he should go: There's only so much room at the inn, and really, what would Hunter's role be if the Rangers added a Heath Bell? Feliz and Bell would handle the 8th and 9th in some combination, Lowe would be the power arm for the 7th or 8th, you've got Tateyama as a situational righthander, Feldman as the long man...Hunter could be the victim of a numbers game, particularly since he's been more "okay" than "great" since joining the major league pen. And Hunter also can be optioned, which would allow the Rangers to send him down and, potentially, look at stretching him out, to be the team's "sixth starter" if a member of the rotation were to go down.
Outlook: Tough call here. Going just off the numbers, you'd think Hunter would be out (particularly if the Rangers were to add a lefty and a righty, meaning that they couldn't just dump Rhodes). But the regard in which the organization holds him, the feeling that he's pennant race tested, and the fact that he could be a key part of the bullpen for several more years to come could result in him sticking around. At this point, though, I think it is probably not much better than 50/50 he's still on the 25 man roster come Monday.
#22 / Pitcher / Texas Rangers
Dec 26, 1975
|2011 - Yoshinori Tateyama||1-0||23||0||0||0||1||0||24.0||19||10||9||3||4||25||3.38||.96|
Why he should stay: He's done nothing but get the job done this year, despite being bounced between Round Rock and Texas. His 2.65 xFIP is the best on the team, and his 3.63 tERA is the second best on the team, trailing only Scott Feldman (he of the two innings pitched).
Why he should go: He, like Hunter and Lowe, can be optioned. In addition, as a sidearming righthander, he's something of a specialist, someone you want to face an righthander or two, but not use against a lefty (lefthanders have a 6.22 FIP against him this year, although just a 3.07 xFIP -- you can argue he's unlucky on his HR% against lefties, or you can argue that lefties are going to have a higher HR/FB rate because he's a sidearmer). With a bunch of other righthanded arms in the bullpen, if he's viewed as a specialist, he may be seen as a luxury the team can't afford to carry.
Outlook: He's probably on the bubble, though he doesn't deserve to be on the bubble based on his performance. Like Hunter, he's probably not much better than a 50/50 shot to still be on the 25 man roster on Monday.
* * *
What makes it harder to predict what is going to happen here is the fact that the pitchers who have performed the worst this season, and who, on the surface, would seem most likely to be dropped if the Rangers added a new reliever, are Neftali Feliz and Arthur Rhodes. Feliz isn't likely to be sent down, for a host of reasons, and letting Rhodes go would mean only having one lefty reliever in the bullpen.
Part of the problem is that the Ranger bullpen isn't full of terrible pitchers right now...rather, it is full of mediocre pitchers, at least one of whom will most likely not be on a major league roster come August 1.