Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Welcome to the Blog, Fredi

I had anticipated not having the opportunity to talk about Fredi Gonzalez until Spring Training had begun, but I miscalculated.  Earlier today, Braves beat writer David O'Brien tweeted that Fredi has said that Julio Teheran and/or Randall Delgado would be bullpen options if they don't make the starting rotation for Opening Day.  It might be safe to assume that we can't pin this all on Fredi, and that I'm shooting the messenger here... but it might not.  Fredi is that kind of guy.  In either case, my reaction was an emphatic "huh?"

The Braves bullpen, it has been well documented, was incredible in 2011.  Craig Kimbrel was likely the most valuable reliever in the league, Jonny Venters was certainly one of the best set-up men, and Eric O'Flaherty didn't do so bad for himself either.  The pieces beyond these three generally made solid contributions as well (besides Scott Proctor, bless his little heart).  This was accomplished despite injuries to Kris Medlen and, to a lesser extent, Peter Moylan, who were supposed to be important pieces in the 'pen.  The 2012 bullpen, before this tweet, was expected to be staffed by Kimbrel, Venters, O'Flaherty, Medlen, and some combination of Arodys Vizcaino, Anthony Varvaro, Cristhian Martinez, Jairo Ascensio, and other less likely candidates.  While some of them may regress from the stellar performances of last season, conventional wisdom would rank the Braves' bullpen as being among the best in the league in this upcoming season.

Teheran and Delgado are very highly regarded prospects, and are going to be starters for the Atlanta Braves at some point soon.  They will make starts in 2012, and if they aren't full-fledged members of the 2013 rotation (at least Teheran), I would be surprised.  Why stick them in the bullpen, then?  The whole point of the minor league system is to allow these players to develop.  These players need to improve their durability by pitching every fifth day and get a better feel for their repertoire, not be stuck in a bullpen where they are called on every... who knows how many days to pitch a single inning.  There was a case for putting Vizcaino, another highly regarded prospect, into the bullpen last year because of his history with injury, but that is not so much the case with these two.  There is no need to rush these two and possibly stunt their development.  While it may improve the bullpen, it isn't by enough that it is worth damaging the performance of the rotation in the long term, or, for that matter, the future payroll by inordinately increasing their service time without good reason.  The relievers that the club will use in high-leverage situations are set in stone, and the low-leverage relievers will be completely adequate.

So, was Fredi just letting the world know of another genius idea that occurred to him, or is this something that has been discussed with the front office and the player development staff?  Only time will tell, but I'm willing to put my money on the first.  If either one of Teheran or Delgado is sitting in that bullpen on Opening Day without a solid excuse (e.g. some disaster befalling... a large number of relievers), I will not be happy, and the future Braves might pay for it in one way or another.

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