The Mariners Bullpen: Who Stays and Who Goes?

It's been two weeks since the All-Star break and hopes of a miracle run in the second half of the season are being crushed quickly. The Mariners have so many holes in their offense and in their starting pitching staff that it often seems like this team has no strengths. Despite all the losing, the M's bullpen is second in the American League in earned run average, and their success has made them the subject of many trade rumors.

So how do the M's address their weaknesses without depleting their sole strength? Lets take a look at who should be dealt and who should stay put, plus who from the minors is ready for a promotion?

Eddie Guardado: Everyday Eddie has bounced back from an injury-plagued 2004 to have his best season this year. At age 34 he has a career best 1.64 ERA to go along with his 22 saves. Guardado is a guy that the Mariners should keep unless another team makes an offer too good to refuse, which very well could happen. The World Series Champs want to repeat and they have prospects the Mariners want. The Red Sox need for a closer may be more urgent now that Curt Schilling (the Sox interim closer) has recently stated he is ready to be a starter again. If a contender like the Sox blow away the M's with some solid prospects for Eddie, look for J.J. Putz to take over at the position for the remainder of the season. Rafael Soriano is another option for the closer role and if his rehab is successful he is a sure bet to join the bullpen in 2006.

Julio Mateo: Mateo has not been a big name in any trade rumors and has done everything the Mariners could ask out of the bullpen this season. The youngest man on the bullpen should stay put.

Jeff Nelson: Nelly has been frustrating hitters with his nasty slider for over a decade now and this year hasn't been any different. At 38 years old, Nelson is not getting any younger and really does not fit the future of the team. He has tons of playoff experience and should be dealt to one of the many contenders that could use it. The M's should be especially ready to deal Nelly, since another reliever with a tough slider is in Tacoma and ready to make the move up. Clint Nageotte is a 24-year old pitcher that should get a chance to bring his stuff up to the M's bullpen this season, and earn a permanent place in the bullpen for 2006.

Ron Villone: A left-handed pitcher with a 2.38 ERA through July 23, only Guardado is the more valuable commodity out of the M's bullpen. The M's really can not lose with Villone. At 34 years of age, he looks to have at least one more great year in his tank, but if they can get an anxious buyer to overpay for Villone the M's have some good left-handed options in Triple-A in Damian Moss and George Sherrill.

Matt Thornton: Thornton has been the lefty used to face left-handers when it's too early to have Villone face them. Unfortunately for the M's, he has not been very effective, posting an earned run average over five. He is only 28 years old and has good arm, but has not been getting outs with any type of consistency. His job is and should be in jeopardy. If he does not improve look for one of Moss or Sherrill to fill his position come 2006.

Shigetoshi Hasegawa: Shiggy was once the leader of the bullpen who could fill in as a closer and go long innings. The day after the trade deadline, Shiggy turns 37. It would be best for the Mariners if he celebrates that birthday as a member of another team. Hasegawa has lost some of his effectiveness and does not have much more of a future on this team. His contract and age will not make him easy to deal, but the M's should still be able to find a team in contention willing to take a risk on the once dominant reliever. If Hasegawa is dealt the Mariners could bring up Jeff Harris, a 31-year-old rookie who throws strikes and is ready for a chance at the majors.

J.J. Putz: The 28-year-old may have some of the best "stuff" in the pen when his 94 plus fastball has movement on it. When his fastball is not moving the big leaguers have been crushing it to the cheap seats. If Putz can continue to learn as this 2005 season progresses, he not only should remain a Mariner, but also could find himself closing games in the future.

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