According to ERA and xFIP, the Mariners had the best bullpen in baseball last year, a fact that broadcaster Dave Sims was not shy in pointing out. With a pen full of gas cans — most of whom can pitch multiple innings if needed — opponents don’t get a chance to pick on a weak link in the late innings. Though they lost Brandon Maurer in a trade with the San Diego Padres, the Mariners bullpen should be in competition to retain their title in 2015.
The Closer: Fernando Rodney
Despite perhaps being the shakiest of any Mariners reliever, Rodney has a firm hold on the ninth inning heading into the season. Rodney, in the second year of a two-year contract, managed to maintain a high strikeout rate while seeing his fastball velocity drop over 1.5 MPH, according to PITCHf/x. Rodney’s change has some of the best movement in the league, and he often control it better than his heater. Rodney had an ERA under 3.00 last year, and as frustrating as he can be, the job is his and his alone.
Setup Men: Yoervis Medina, Tom Wilhelmsen, Danny Farquhar
Funky Cold, The Bartender, and Lord Farquhar make up a three-headed Hydra to bridge the gap to Rodney. Medina has had problems with walks, but his stuff is nasty enough that he can get away with some free passes. Wilhelmsen, the Mariners closer for most of 2012 and 2013, is electric but inconsistent. When he’s on, his fastball-curve combo is unhittable, but he can have problems with command that leads to his curveball being a non-factor. Farquhar is the most consistent Mariners reliever, with a cutter that he can locate to either side of the plate against both lefties and righties.
In terms of the depth chart, it’s constantly unclear who would be in line for saves should Rodney falter. Medina is the only one of the three without extended time as a closer, so the odds are against him getting the first shot. Farquhar is superior to both, but that doesn’t mean manager Lloyd McClendon trusts him more. From a fantasy perspective, bet on Farquhar, as he’ll give you the most value of the three even when he’s not picking up saves.
The Others: Charlie Furbush, Dominic Leone, Carson Smith
Leone debuted last season and was awesome, but he won’t be in line for Saves. Furbush is the pen’s only lefty guaranteed a job heading into Spring Training, and he’s great to have in Holds leagues. Smith had a cup of coffee with the team in September, and he looks to have a job locked down after the Maurer trade. Smith should be able to dominate righties, but his arm slot and sinker/slider arsenal make it hard for him against lefties.
Outside of the core groups above, there will be a battle for a bullpen spot between Erasmo Ramirez, Lucas Luetge, and a pile of other left-handers. Expect the final spot in the pen to change hands throughout the year as need dictates.