2013 Colorado Rockies Bullpen Review (AKA zomg we signed LaTroy Hawkins)

Hannah Foslien

The Rockies bullpen has, amazingly, been one of its most stable areas for some years now. Heading out of 2013 and into the future, however, the relief corps is likely going to need to receive the most significant attention it has since the 2009 trade deadline. From new players to potential new roles for classic players, we might see a 2014 bullpen that operates a lot differently than we're used to seeing.

So, I had this whole article written. I wrote about how it was awesome that Rex Brothers was ready to slide right into the closer's role. I wrote about how the Rockies were looking at a few other options around the league, but only dabbling so far.

Then I check SB Nation one more time before I go to bed and WUT. WE AGREED TO SIGN LATROY HAWKINS? AND HE'S GOING TO CLOSE? Great, now I have to rewrite when I should be sleeping. Gummyworms.

I love Hawkins. I remember how he got off on the worst foot for us in 2007, ruining three games in the first ten days or so. For a brief time he was public enemy number one, but he ended up being one of my favorite roleplayers on that 2007 roster. I remember him giving Troy Tulowitzki the pie in the face during a postgame interview. Those of you who have been following me for some time know I love the bullpen guys. Hawkins represents exactly the type of player I have the most fun watching.

But you all know that I also love me some Rex Brothers. It seems as though we will be starting Hawkins in the closer's role, with Brothers returning to setup. My first selfish thought is that, well, at least Brothers' arb salary in 2015 will be a lot smaller. Then again, Brothers is awesome and should be closing. Hawkins is 41, and we thought 39 year old Rafael Betancourt was old. But Hawkins is still kind of good. But then we have ourselves in another situation where we're just waiting for age to catch up to him and...

Solution? PLATOON CLOSERS?! I've seen this idea floated around a bit. I think it'd be kind of cool to dabble with it. Lefty/righty works out well, one could play setup to the other, and anything that subverts the traditional closer mentality intrigues me.

Oh well. On to the article I wrote, with a few... revisions.

The most significant departure from the bullpen will of course be Rafael Betancourt, who finally saw age catch up with him. The slow-paced strike thrower was one of the most consistent features in the Rockies pen for nearly four and a half seasons, working successfully as a setup man behind Huston Street before making the transition to closing himself in 2012.

Betancourt's annual success continued at the start of 2013, but after dealing with a variety of nagging injuries, his season came to a close at the end of August when a ligament injury was discovered. Betancourt will require surgical intervention to repair the tear, never good news when you're an athlete approaching forty. With at least a full season's recovery time expected, the decision to move on from Betancourt was an easy one, and the team predictably declined his 2014 option.

2013 Successes

Among the greater 2013 successes who will almost certainly be starting the 2014 season in new roles will be were Rex Brothers and Adam Ottavino. Brothers spent about 25% of the season in the closer's role whenever Betancourt was down, and is the heir apparent to the permanent job in 2014. Brothers' 2013 was nothing short of incredible on the WPA side of things, as the young lefty put up the fourth most "winning" season for a reliever in team history. He was sort of my "unofficial official MVP" of 2013, and he represents one of the most successful examples of talent development this team has managed during recent memory. Having him available to slide into the closer's role is a great boon to the bullpen's near future, although much of the rest of it is looking bleaker.

In the meantime, Ottavino opened the season as the swingman, ready and able to throw high-leverage innings or long-relief junk innings, and pitched pretty darn well in both scenarios. With a career year under his belt and a back end of the pen looking to recover from a talent purge of sorts, it is likely that even if Ottavino is not officially designated a setup reliever, he will be pitching a lot less frequently in losing games, filling wasted innings with good stuff. However, Ottavino does remain one of our most versatile relievers, and I think the best thing to do with him moving forward is to avoid pigeonholing him into a specific role.

2013 Failures

There's no question that despite Wilton Lopez's surprisingly high value in the vacuum, he did absolutely nothing to contribute to the team's overall success. The trade, as of today, is an abject disappointment, even though Alex White isn't exactly holding up his end in Houston either. That said, Lopez still has two more seasons of arbitration-salaried team control, making a turnaround a possibility. I still expect Lopez to be in our 2014 bullpen, perhaps in a reduced role.

Matt Belisle continues to be as workhorse, but each and every year his work is slightly more shoddy. While still a valuable piece, the team's hesitation to pick up his $4.25M option until the very last moment is indicative that they're less and less enthused by his presence as a top-tier figure in that pen. The Rockies ultimately recognized the absence of sure-things in the eighth inning, and an overpaid Belisle is probably better than no Belisle at all, so for the time being he remains in our corps for the time being.

2014

Josh Outman, who profiles as at least an adequate lefty specialist, will join those four others in next year's projected pen, leaving the Rockies two spots to play with. The Rockies chose to keep arb-eligible Mitchell Boggs on the roster over Manny Corpas during October outrights. Boggs joins Belisle and Lopez as a (more fargone) former top-tier setup reliever capable of a turnaround, though if the Rockies choose to sign more than one reliever currently in a better career position, we may still see Boggs non-tendered in December.

The only other notable relief name currently on the 40-man roster is Rob Scahill, who could be a good fit to take over for Ottavino in a more traditional long-relief setting. Talk remains of Chad Bettis and/or Juan Nicasio being converted to relief pitchers, and that field could theoretically also include Christian Friedrich or Drew Pomeranz (whose greatest demonstrations of success in 2013 came out of the pen) depending on what shakes down with the fifth starter situation.

The Rockies have been more active on the reliever front than anywhere else thus far during he offseason, being linked to names like LaTroy Hawkins, Brian Wilson and Jose Veras. Word on the street is that the Rockies may be willing to sign two names out of the setup/closer type pool, which would dramatically increase the total talent spread throughout the roster, taking some stress off of Lopez and Belisle to return to form in full. The Rockies also spent much of 2013 with an eight-man pen, which means we may have to consider a 2014 squad that includes an eighth reliever and a four-man bench.

Signing two mid-upper tier relievers may be a frivolous idea when your spending budget is just $10M, give or take, but adding at least one name into that mix for another eighth inning option is a smart play. The Rockies clearly recognize that the disappearance of Betancourt and the regression of Belisle and Lopez means we need reinforcements for the more important innings, regardless of Brothers' positive projections in the closer's role. The Rockies have often had a problem placing too much faith in their former mainstays a few years too long. Their offseason activity suggests that they are looking to be proactive, and resurrecting the bullpen alignment before it's completely dead and gone. We signed Latroy Hawkins. The end.

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