The Tampa Bay Rays have an unorthodox bullpen, but one of the most successful bullpens. As the Seattle Mariners bolsters its bullpen, should it look to replicate the Rays?
Rays manager, Kevin Cash has been operating an unorthodox bullpen for quite some time. And when I say unorthodox, I really am only referring to not having a single closer and using his bullpen guys in different situations instead of just the ninth inning. Baseball teams have traditionally had a go-to closer that always pitches in the ninth inning of close games. But, Cash and the Rays have been operating without an official closer the past few seasons. The Rays have found great success through its system and it raises the question, should the Seattle Mariners attempt a similar system?
The Seattle Mariners are almost finished with the Jerry Dipoto rebuild process, and now is the time to sign some free-agents to bolster the team. Dipoto has discussed the bullpen as one area of focus in this offseason and now would be the perfect time to decide what type of system the bullpen will operate in before bringing players onto the team. Also keep in mind that the MLB Rule 5 Draft is right around the corner, which could provide another bullpen arm. A closer by committee system has its pros and cons, but will it work for Seattle? Let’s start with the reasons to operate a closer by committee like the Rays.
Reason No. 1: The Rays have proved it can work while being cost-effective
In this past shortened season, the Tampa Bay Rays relievers were tied in first for most wins above replacements. The Rays and Twins relievers had a combined 3.6 wins above replacements. Tampa Bay was third in bullpen ERA with a 3.37 ERA. The Athletics and Dodgers were the only teams ahead of the Rays in ERA. In 2019, the Rays led the league in wins above replacements and ERA among all MLB bullpens. In 2018, the Rays finished in fifth place for bullpen WAR and 12th in ERA.
The other teams who have had bullpen success since 2018 include the Yankees, Athletics, Padres, and Dodgers. The four teams have had a main closer but they have great supporting relievers, who were comfortable enough to step in as the closer at any given time. For example, the Yankees have relied on Aroldis Chapman, but Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino have been used when Chapman was injured, or unavailable. But the main difference between the Yankees bullpen and the Rays bullpen is the amount spent on each bullpen.
The Yankees have always been a big-spending team and that is no secret. Just with Chapman and Britton combined, their annual salaries equal $28million in 2020. The Rays on the other hand had the 28th ranked payroll in 2020. The Rays top relief pitchers, Nick Anderson and Diego Castillo had a combined annual salary of just over $1million.
The Rays may have gotten lucky, or the general manager just did an incredible job putting together a bunch of different relief pitchers, or the system is just cheaper and effective. There is potential for the last option because when relief pitchers are dubbed “closers” they can be more expensive to sign. Like Chapman and Britton, they are both former All-Star closers who can leverage a large contract as they did with the Yankees.
Although the Seattle Mariners have some room to spend, they should not go on a complete shopping spree and sign Blake Treinen, Liam Hendriks, Shane Greene, Kirby Yates, and Brad Hand all in one offseason. But, a mix of solid lower end relief pitchers and a star relief pitcher could be very realistic. This would offer a great foundation for an excellent bullpen in the future and would fit as a closer by committee.