The Mariners Bullpen: Constructing the 2023 Los Bomberos
The Mariner bullpen was a strength of the team for the past two years. This fact is evidenced by Manager Scott Servais' group leading the league in run-one victories in both seasons. Flamethrowers Andres Munoz and Matt Brash, as well as slider monsters Paul Sewald and Diego Castillo, have received much of the notoriety, but this season offers more exciting options.
I don't envy Servais this Spring because building the bullpen will be a tough chore. However, there are some fascinating arms behind the left field wall. Let's look at what the 2023 Los Bomberos could look like when the team breaks camp.
2023 Los Bomberos: Mariners Locks
The mandatory 13-man pitching staff teamed with General Manager, Justin Hollander, sticking with a five-person rotation that leaves eight spots. Munoz, Brash, Sewald, Castillo, and newcomer Trevor Gott should all be locked in. I can't see a world where Jerry Dipoto signs a guy (Gott) to a major league deal and kicks him to the curb in March. When he is on, the cutter is nearly unhittable (.169 BAA), and his elevated riding fastball keeps hitters off balance.
The scouting report says he locates the pitch on both sides of the plate to induce weak contact and some swing and misses. That sure sounds like a replacement for our old friend Erik Swanson. So throw Gott into the lock pile, leaving us with three remaining spots.
2023 Los Bomberos: Mariners on the Bubble
Each player spent time with the team and played vital roles during the stretch run. That factor alone should give them a leg up on the competition.
Penn Murfee is a weak contact machine, or at least he was in 2022, accumulating a 77.8% groundball rate. He can also pitch multiple innings, which adds value to the pen. The interesting thing is Murfee has two options remaining. This might be a blessing or curse, considering the wave of talented arms competing for these last three spots.
Matthew Festa is another multi-inning reliever whose skillset is similar to Sewald's in that he elevates the fastball and uses the slider as the out pitch. Festa took significant strides last year in limiting runs scored by finishing with a 77.2% strand rate. In addition, he pitched many high-leverage innings in September, serving as a bridge to Munoz and Brash.
The media and even our team at Sodo Mojo have written about an inevitable Chris Flexen trade. Reports surfaced in November that teams were asking for Flexen and, to an extent Marco Gonzales at the trade deadline. The former is a multiple-inning reliever with a four-pitch mix who could help Servais in a multitude of ways, such as filling innings in a blowout to save the pen—or serving as an opener or spot starter. These guys are the unsung heroes of playoff teams. Despite this, I see Flexen being traded during the Spring to a team in dire need of a starter, either due to an unforeseen injury or just a hole in the rotation (Baltimore, San Diego, Minnesota).
If I’m parsing the tea leaves and the Jerry Dipoto, Justin Hollander, and Scott Servais media circuit, they know the value Festa and Murfee bring. The experience they gained was pitching in a playoff chase is invaluable. Barring an injury or a drop in production this Spring, which is entirely possible because relievers are volatile, Festa and Murfee make the cut. We are now down to one spot left, and THIS is where it gets complicated.
2023 Los Bomberos: Interesting Mariners Camp Arms
Jerry Dipoto and the Mariner’s pitching development team have continually found arms no one wanted (see Paul Sewald, Chris Flexen), and it's the same this year. The list of camp arms headed to Peoria to battle for what is presumably the last spot includes Justin Topa, Gabe Speier, Easton McGee, Tayler Saucedo, A.J. Puckett, and Casey Sadler. Some players come with injury concerns, and others come off injuries or poor performance.
I've seen that this team doesn't care if their pen is all right-handed like last year or if it includes a lefty. There are righty relievers in this bunch with exciting stuff that could end up with reverse splits. Sifting through the list, Easton McGee and Justin Topa probably go to Tacoma to either get innings to put health concerns behind them or show their value.
Saucedo is an interesting piece, as he throws in the upper 90s from the left side and has turned the corner recently, increasing his strikeout rates (11.2k/9), but walks can be a problem. As for former Royal AJ Puckett, Dipoto immediately signed him after watching a showcase last month, and the stuff is electric. Yes, it was a controlled session, but tell me you don’t get a little bit excited about that cutter barreling in on Yordan Alvarez, Shohei Ohtani, or Corey Seager.
Gabe Speier has a lot of San Diego Padres All-Star Closer Josh Hader in him. He fires a mid-to-high 90's fastball with ride and drops a quality slider on the corners for strikes. I see a situation where Speier flashes in Peoria to make some noise, but ultimately, he is a crucial setup man in Tacoma to start the year.
That leaves Casey Sadler as the lone survivor in what looks like an all-out battle. It's hard to remember just how dominating Sadler was in 2021 before he had shoulder surgery, but here is our deep dive on how he could make the team and what he could provide Servais within the 2023 campaign.
One player to keep an eye on is Top 100 prospect Bryce Miller. I know many people want the team to control his service time, which would be ideal, But Dipoto made some interesting comments on Seattle Sports 710-morning show.
"He might get a crack sooner than that in our bullpen, much like we did with Matt Brash (last year). Just give him an opportunity to make an impact on what we think is a good team, because if we feel like he is one of our best 13 arms, we’re going to keep our best 13 arms."- Jerry Dipoto
That quote holds a lot of weight in my eyes. Miller is coming to camp as a starter who threw 130 quality innings across two levels, flashing a dominant three-pitch mix and touching triple digits. That is why he takes the final spot with the Los Bomberos.
Los Bomberos 2023
Imaging a three-headed monster of Brash, Miller, and Munoz harkens me back to the 90's Cincinnati Reds, where Rob Dibble, Randy Myers, and Norm Charlton fired bullets and locked down games in the sixth inning. It's an exciting picture that might just come to fruition in late March when the team heads to Seattle to kick off the season.