The bullpen was never a problem for the Miami Marlins in 2013, but General Manager Dan Jennings and his team have done everything possible this offseason to make sure it remains that way.
Heading into Spring Training, Miami will likely once again have one of the youngest rotations in baseball. Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Henderson Alvarez all appear to have spots secure, leaving Jacob Turner, Brian Flynn, Brad Hand, Tom Koehler, and Kevin Slowey in the mix for the fourth and fifth spots.
With Steve Cishek closing games again in 2014, President of Baseball Operations Michael Hill is confident in the arms that will replace the five youthful starters that will compose Miami's starting rotation.
"We expect our bullpen to continue to be a strength of our team," Hill said in an interview with MLB.com. "Steve Cishek has proven to be a formidable force in finishing games."
Cishek, who converted 34 of 36 save chances, posted a 2.33 ERA. The sidearm-throwing right-hander was especially effective as the season progressed. After the All-Star break, his ERA was a miniscule 0.96 -- allowing three earned runs in 28 innings. His strikeouts per nine innings in that span was 10.6, compared to 8.9 in the first half.
Although the team lost 100 games in 2013, just a handful of those were at the expense of the relievers. For the second time over a three year span, the bullpen posted a 3.42 ERA, the best in franchise history.
Miami's relievers posted a 3.42 ERA, matching the 2011 squad for the best in franchise history. The impressive ERA also was 11th best in the Major Leagues a year ago, while their 467 strikeouts ranked 12th. The unit showed the ability to miss bats, and it averaged 8.15 strikeouts per nine innings, second in club history to 2009 (8.20).
With the starting staff recording just two complete games, the bullpen was called upon to perform in the other 160.
With Fernandez on a pitch limit and several other starters suffering from injuries that delayed the start of their seasons, Manager Mike Redmond and the front office carefully regulated the number of pitches and innings each starter threw throughout the course of the season to prevent future conflicts. In 2014, Miami starters will be expected to go deeper into games.
After losing Chad Qualls and Ryan Webb, the Marlins sought veteran relief help. Miami added Carlos Marmol as a setup option on Thursday with a one-year contract, and the organization added reliever Carter Capps in exchange for Logan Morrison in December.
A.J. Ramos, Chris Hatcher, and Arquimedes Caminero will all compete for a spot. In terms of left-handed relievers, Miami will consider carrying both Mike Dunn and Dan Jennings on the active roster.
Several non-roster invitees will be looked at, with Henry Rodriguez and Chaz Roe being signed to minor league contracts this offseason. Roe struck out 24 in 22 1/3 innings with Arizona last season.
Nick Wittgren will be in his first major league camp, and is an intriguing candidate. Last year he posted a 0.77 ERA in the minor leagues, and became well-known throughout the Arizona Fall League.
"In front of Cishek, Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos and newly-acquired Carter Capps should do their parts in shortening the game," Hill said. "Dan Jennings, Arquimedes Caminero, Chris Hatcher are a few of our younger players that gained valuable experience last season that should help them this year. A talented group of non-roster invites -- including Henry Rodriguez, Kevin Slowey and Nick Wittgren -- among others, should create an exciting competition this spring."