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Arizona Diamondbacks spring issues: The bullpen

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You want a bullpen? This spring, Arizona has the personnel to build two, with arms to spare.

Divisional Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Three Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As we go into spring training, there are least nineteen names who can honestly claim to have a credible chance of making the Diamondbacks’ bullpen on Opening Day. That seems like... a lot [We need to get Dan Szymborski to do one of his patented wrestling sims, and have a Royal Rumble among the candidates], Of course, not all chances are equal. But the relief corps at this point is a mix of familiar faces, new names and question-marks of various shapes. Let’s divide them up into five categories.

Stalwarts

  • Archie Bradley
  • Andrew Chafin
  • Randall Delgado

These are the guys present in 2017, and solid enough that they are all but guaranteed to be in the 2018 version of the Arizona bullpen. Chafin will be the main left-handed reliever. While his numbers against left-handed batters were largely similar to candidates like De La Rosa or McFarland, he was significantly better against right-handers. Delgado seems to have been working long-relief forever. This’ll be his sixth season with a relief appearance, tying the franchise record (also Collmenter, Ziegler, Koplove and Mantei - which sounds like a law-firm!). Bradley’s job remains to be decided, but I’d expect the same Andrew Miller-esque role as 2017. Why mess with what was very clearly a good thing last year?

New faces

  • Brad Boxberger
  • Yoshihisa Hirano
  • Albert Suarez

This trio were specifically acquired by Mike Hazen this winter, so you’ve got to imagine they figure into the team’s plans somewhere. I expect Boxberger to be the closer: he has held the position in the majors, and his signing after injury issues feels like the same kind of “buy low” move which brought us the Fernando Rodney Experience. Hirano has more career saves, true, but it feels risky to drop him into the major-league role without first seeing if he can handle MLB batters. Suarez’s chances of surviving have dropped with every subsequent new arrival since being chosen in the Rule 5 draft on Dec 14. He will probably need to have an outstanding spring to avoid being sent back to the Giants.

Rookies

  • Matt Koch
  • Jared Miller
  • Jimmie Sherfy

Koch has six relief appearances and two starts for the D-backs, so could be considered either way - the lack of depth for our rotation suggests a starter’s role might make more sense. Left-hander Miller is going up against a number of people with major-league experience and opt-outs for that role in the bullpen - his minor-league options and serice time considerations may end up working against him. Sherfy was above lights-out in the regular season... then not so much in the post-season. The reality of Sherfy’s actual talent level likely falls between those two extremes. Both he and Miller seem sure to see action in 2018: whether or not that’s on the Opening Day roster is more uncertain.

Returning question-marks

  • Jake Barrett
  • Silvino Bracho
  • Jorge De La Rosa
  • T.J. McFarland

All four pitched at least twenty innings for the Diamondbacks in 2017, but are by no means certain of a spot in 2018. De La Rosa was the only one with an ERA below five, but that partly relied on a likely impossible rate of stranding runners. I’d like to see Torey Lovullo do a better job of keeping RHBs away from Jorge. McFarland had the best FIP, at 4.10, but a K:BB ratio of 29:17 isn’t very impressive. Barrett’s was hardly any better (26:15), and he needs to keep the ball in the park, having allowed seven HR in 27 innings last year. Maybe the humidor will help him? Bracho suffered from the same issue, though he also had a better K-rate than any reliever for us bar, uh, J.J. Hoover. So, never mind.

Non-roster invitees

  • Antonio Bastardo
  • Michael Blazek
  • Jake Buchanan
  • Rubby De La Rosa
  • Neftali Feliz
  • Fernando Salas

And these are just the names in Diamondbacks’ camp who pitched at the major-league level in 2017. For obvious reasons, they’re mostly reclamation projects, players who were not able to get a guaranteed contract for the season. Feliz and Salas are probably the most well-known names. The former has over a hundred career saves, including forty in a season (2010, when he was Rookie of the Year). But the past three years have seen him with an ERA above five, and he has bounced around five different teams as well. However, he is still only 29, so his arm should still have some bullets in it. Salas has four straight years with 50+ MLB innings, and his 2017 peripherals were better than his 5.22 ERA.

From the above, which seven arms do you select for your 2018 bullpen?