Bullpen Competition Heats Up

With the resolution of the kidnapping of the mother of Ugueth Urbina, debates can now shift to the status of the bullpen – who has the best shot of filling out the team, will Urbina be put up for trade, and what about those players that have now exhausted their options?

Manager Alan Trammell has made it clear that he only intends on keeping six relievers this season, and many of those spots are already spoken for. Newly signed Troy Percival will obviously make the team. Ditto for the team's other recent acquisition, righty Kyle Farnsworth.

Among the holdovers, left hander Jamie Walker will once again be the Tigers go-to lefty out of the bullpen. The possibility exists that the Tigers could possibly look to trade Ugueth Urbina, but his value would likely be much higher come July, when high quality relievers are always at a premium.

After those four, the situation is less settled. Many assumed coming into the spring that Gary Knotts would virtually be guaranteed a spot as the club's long reliever and potential emergency starter. But Trammell has made no such guarantees. Add on the fact that Knotts is without options, and the pressure suddenly mounts on Knotts to impress this spring or be placed on waivers and seeing his future with the Tigers shift from bright to bleak.

Another reliever that has now exhausted all of his options is Franklyn German. The much-discussed German possesses incredible skills, but has yet to get over the mental block he's had once he makes it to the big leagues (where he has a 5.73 ERA and more walks than strikeouts in 68 innings of work). With his stuff, it's highly unlikely the Tigers would be able to get German through waivers, meaning without an impressive spring (one good enough to convince the Tigers to keep him as one of the six), his run as a Tiger could come to an end.

Moving on to more holdovers, Fernando Rodney's biggest question mark isn't as much of how well he can pitch, but rather whether or not he's fully recovered from Tommy John surgery from last spring. If he's 100%, it'll be unlikely the Tigers keep him off the big league roster, as they clearly like his upside the most of any of their young relievers.

Rodney isn't the only pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery though. Chris Spurling, one of the team's Rule 5 picks from 2003, underwent the same surgery last spring as well, and has been working himself back since then. Spurling though still has options remaining, and will likely be relegated to starting the year with AAA Toledo, unless he blows away the rest of the competition and forces the Tigers hand.

A final notable is lefty Steve Colyer, who was acquired just before the start of the 2004 season. Colyer has an impressive fastball that can reach the upper 90's a rarity for a left hander. Unfortunately, he has yet to solve his control problems. And while the Tigers would love to have two lefties at their disposal in the bullpen, the probable presence of three in the rotation lessens that to an extent, likely sending Colyer to Toledo, along with Spurling. (Ed. Note: after publication, it has been discovered and confirmed by the organization that Colyer is also out of options, and would have to clear waivers to be sent to Toledo)

There are dark-horses as well, non-roster invitees that will be given an outside chance at a bullpen job. Andrew Good and Jason Grilli signed minor league deals with a big league invite, and could compete for the long relief job, as both have starting experience from their past big league appearances.

The team also brought back John Ennis and Craig Dingman, who both appeared with the Tigers last year and re-signed minor league deals with a shot in big league camp. Neither are expected to really push for a job though.

In all likelihood, assuming Urbina sticks around, the Tigers are probably going to be forced to try and get someone through waivers. Knotts has experience, but has never been a favorite of Trammell's. Rodney on the other hand is well liked by the coaching staff, and barring an injury setback, will likely head north with the team. Everyone wants to see German come through and become the reliever they know he could be, but Trammell has stated he'll take his six best relievers, and if that's not German, so be it.

It's safe to say now, the battle that ensues over the next month in the bullpen should be an interesting one.


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