While I was off in Scotland, it appears that Mike Hazen was attempting to corner the market in bargain-basement relief arms, signing a slew of potential bullpen candidates. These were all minor-league deals with an invite to spring training next month at Salt River Fields: some (it’s not clear exactly which) appear to have opt-outs if they don’t make the roster by specific dates. But it’s an interesting selection of candidates, almost all of whom have major-league experience (unlike the majority of the previous batch at whom we looked). As a result, this is what spring training will look like for our relievers:
A nine-year veteran, mostly with the Phillies, Bastardo has also spent time with the Mets and, most recently, the Pirates. According to Bob Nightengale, he’ll earn $1.5 million if he makes the roster, and could make up to $4 million in incentives, though it appears most of that would only kick in if he’s closing - unlikely for a man with 12 career saves. He missed two months last year with a quad strain and wasn’t effective on his return, leading to Pittsburgh cutting him in July. But Antonio was effective enough in 2015, with a sub-three ERA and 64 K’s in 57.1 innings. Fun fact: when the Pirates DFA’d Bastardo, it was to make room for... Phil Gosselin.
To say Blazek had an up and down 2017 is putting it mildly. It started with four scoreless outings covering 6.1 innings. Then, the Brewers needed a spot starter for Matt Garza, and ten years after being drafted, Blazek made his first major-league start. He promptly became the only pitcher in MLB history to give up six home-runs in less than three innings on July 27, including back-to-back-to-back-to-back shots. He was subsequently DFA’d by Milwaukee. Not what Blazek needed, especially after he struggled with a forearm issue in 2016. Fun fact: was the PTBNL in the John Axford trade between the Brewers and the Cardinals.
We already discussed the signing of Feliz, but it’s worth mentioning the failed attempt to turn the reliever into a starter - it’s perhaps a cautionary tale for those who want to try the same thing with Archie Bradley. For Feliz, the move to the rotation came after he was one strike from winning the World Series in 2011, before blowing it. The following year, he made eight starts, and pitched decently (3.16 ERA) - but blew more than just a save, requiring Tommy John and missing 15 months. ERA prior to that procedure: 2.67. Since then: 4.40. Fun fact: On September 1, 2010, had a pitch clocked at 103.4 mph, the 3rd fastest ever recorded behind Aroldis Chapman and Joel Zumaya.
He’s a little different, as he has pitched rather more innings as a starter than a reliever. 14 of his 21 major-league appearances since his second Tommy John procedure in 2014, have been as a starting pitcher, and he spent all of 2017 in the Braves’ minor-league system in that role. But it seems possible his best chance of making a major-league spot with the Diamondbacks would be as a reliever, in the same way we saw long-time starter Jorge De La Rosa move to the bullpen for Arizona last season. Fun fact: Threw the opening pitch in the first ever wild-card playoff game, for the Braves against the Cardinals in October 2012.
Salas has eight seasons under his belt, spending each of the past two splitting time between the Angels and Mets. He was initially supposed to be the Mets’ 2017 set-up man, but he finished April with a 7.15 ERA, and it didn’t get below five before his release in August, as his walk-rate spiked. But overall, the 32-year-old has a 3.85 ERA (ERA+ of 101), and won a World Series ring with the 2011 Cardinals, for whom he saved 24 games. As MLB Trade Rumors noted, Salas in 2017 had a career-high 47.5% GB rate and 12.9% swinging-strike rate that matches a personal best, some cause for hope. Fun fact: His name is an anagram of “Nasal sofa nerd”. Ok, not very fun, I grant you... :)