I usually try and take an optimistic approach when it comes to things surrounding this team and life in general, look at my feelings towards last year's opening day bullpen for example; I actually thought Brian Stokes would make a league average reliever. Lately I've tried to curb my enthusiasm and look at things realistically, and while I expect things to happen, they aren't guaranteed.
Overall the team has fewer holes than last year and more wholes for today and tomorrow, but the bullpen still causes me a bit of pessimism. Absolutely a weakness last season, the front office poured resources into the relief corps beginning late last July, acquiring Calvin Medlock, Grant Balfour, and Dan Wheeler and then signing Trever Miller and Troy Percival this off-season. At this time last year the Rays had no relievers making more than a million dollars; currently Al Reyes, Gary Glover, Dan Wheeler, Troy Percival, and Trever Miller are set to bring in six figure salaries.
I have a few issues with most of the candidates, but to begin let's address the possible areas of improvement as a whole - all of which are self explanatory:
More talent in the bullpen
To begin with, I'm not thrilled with the idea of so much money being poured into the bullpen. With so much young pitching coming I won't say something to the effect of us being better off signing a starter rather than wasting it on band-aids because I don't feel that way. However bullpens can be built cost efficiently and with the ambiguous performances of most relievers it seems rather foolish to invest in what amounts to the Rays' version of the Millionaires' Club.
I absolutely abominate the idea that Gary Glover is asserted a spot all ready based on his salary. To the team's credit Dan Miceli's salary didn't keep him from the garbage bin last year, but then again Miceli's mouth helped, along with his tendencies for knife fights. Glover not only possesses little upside however my bigger problem is that his performance last year should warrant him an opportunity to make the team rather than a pre-determined lock. An even larger problem appears to be Glover's likely performance this year, one because Glover's K:BB ratio of 1.8:1 would seem to historically suggest that the odds of him producing an ERA below 3.5 are below 10%.
Glover only allowed 13.5% line drives last year - his career average is 19.6% - 48.2% flyballs compared to a career average of 40.8% and 9.9% of those went for homeruns, down from 10.5% over his career. Somehow he allowed more flyballs, yet his homerun rates didn't go up? Smells like luck to me, and with a WHIP over 1.4 he cannot afford to give up gopher balls. Glover is suited for long relief work - at best, but in terms of being assured a spot? Absolutely ludicrous.
Moving on to Al Reyes and Dan Wheeler, the set-up men and likely "relief aces" in what amounts to a conventional bullpen. I expect Wheeler rebounds; in fact I'm probably the most comfortable with him. Reyes on the other hand will be getting more opportunities than last year, which means more wear and tear, and undoubtedly more of a chance to get blown up with his high flyball rates. Reyes should be fine, assuming his LOB% reverts to norm - remember closers don't need good LOB%, if your closer can prevent every runner from scoring that he inherits he shouldn't be a closer to begin with.
Dispelling all the hoopla and such, and banking that a future study vindicates me when I state this; I think Wheeler and Reyes will have, on average, a higher leverage index than Troy Percival, and therefore more "pressure" to perform well. In theory Wheeler and Reyes' succeeding is definitely a sine qua non of the bullpen.
Troy Percival and Trever Miller get few qualms from me, they are what they are; a lefty reliever and a good, albeit questionable in health and performance closer. Which leads us to the back of the bullpen where Jason Hammel, Balfour, Scott Dohmann, Juan Salas, J.P. Howell, and Kurt Birkins will fight it out for two spots.
I like Salas and Balfour, but I have a feeling with Salas' option, and Balfour's injury history the team will be willing to spare them both in order to keep Hammel or Jackson around in reliever capacity. That goes back to Glover, why keep him as a long reliever when in all likelihood one of the failed starters will be in the bullpen? Dohmann's peripherals don't comfort nor scare me. Howell, along with Birkins, are Durham bound; leaving Hammel and Dohmann as the victors of the spot.
Perhaps it goes back to being cynic when it comes to looking over the stats, but I don't find either of them too appealing. Sure, Hammel has upside, and Dohmann was good - after putting two men on - but that leaves three relievers who can't step in if Wheeler or Reyes goes down. Also, to cover all the reliever bases; I like Scott Munter and Brian Anderson, but at this point neither should be in a major league bullpen.
Being that this is a bullpen article I'm inclined to mention how much more comfortable I would be allowing the Holy Trinity of Faith - Wheeler, Reyes, and Percival - to act as relief aces rather than set their entrances in stone. If there's nobody out in the 7th with two outs and a runner on with the Rays holding a 4-0 lead, don't waste one of them, bring in Dohmann. If the score is 3-0 in the 9th with the opponent's seven through nine hitters up, don't back yourself into a corner like with Reyes last year, let Hammel end the game. By that same token, if it's 2-1 with the bases loaded in the 6th, by all means bring in Troy Percival to preserve the lead.
I highly doubt a team will ever do that, however that's a debate for another time, the point is, once again, I really can't get overly optimistic about half of the relievers we have, and I have some waning bones to pick with most of the others.
Someone please convince me that familiarity is simply breeding contempt in my mind.