Duting their time in Seattle, former Mariners relief pitchers David Aardsma and Shawn Kelley were part of a close-knit bullpen fraternity in 2009 and 2010 stewarded by ex-coach John Wetteland. Interestingly enough, Wetteland had won his only World Series ring as a Yankees closer and the Big Apple is where both Kelley and Aardsma found themselves this spring.
Until yesterday, that is.
That’s when Aardsma, the onetime Seattle closer working his way back from hip and Tommy John surgery that scuttled his 2011 and 2012 seasons (he got in one game last year), was designated for assignment by the Yankees. The reason? Well, the Yanks decided to give their remaining bullpen roster spot to Kelley, who was traded to New York by the Mariners right before spring training opened.
Just a couple of years ago, the notion that Kelley might beat out closer Aardsma for a job would have gotten you laughed out of the room. But the Yankees already have a pretty good closer and some hard-throwers after him and wanted a guy who could go multiple innings. In this bullpen battle, Aardsma’s skillset was redundant.
As for the Mariners, the needs for their bullpen leading into the final week of camp were quite similar.
They had their closer and their hard, one-inning throwers after that. But they wanted a multiple-innings guy as well, which is why Kameron Loe was given a roster spot the day his “out” clause could have kicked in last Monday.
That’s also why Carson Smith had been sent to minor league camp ahead of the Loe move and why Danny Farquhar — another non-roster reliever having a very good spring — will open in Tacoma as the Class AAA closer.
Bullpen needs do vary and it isn’t always the hard-throwing guys with the higher strikeout potential that will prevail in any given spring. Just like with the starting rotation, the 162-game season is more marathon than sprint and a guy who profiles better statistically over a short period won’t always be the one taken.
Ultimately, what teams are most concerned about when it comes to mound decisions is getting through a season. There is no point having a lights-out bullpen through July if it’s going to fall apart come August. At least, not for teams that hope to still be good and contending come August.
Which again, is why good teams look for experience to mix in with a young bullpen where arms are still developing the stamina to last a full season in the majors. Just because a guy once threw two or more innings per night in AA or AAA, over a shorter season against overmatched hitting opponents, doesn’t mean he’ll be able to do it come August of any major league season.
Not right away.
Which is why the Yankees just chose Kelley, a guy who has done that job before. And it’s why the Mariners just went with Loe.
In essence, they just flipped Kelley for Loe. It’s no coincidence they traded one guy just as they had begun negotiating with the other back in February. And now, we’ll have a chance to see whether it was an upgrade, a downgrade, or just a lateral move.
Here’s an early look at the lineup the Mariners will send out there today against Jeff Francis and the Colorado Rockies in Salt Lake City: