There is reason to be optimistic about the Phillies bullpen

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Philadelphia Phillies reliever Chad Durbin speaks with reporters on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, in Philadelphia. Durbin and the Phillies have finalized a $1 million, one-year contract. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Justin De Fratus is one of the many young relievers in camp

I look at a bullpen like a portfolio of stocks. Each asset is extremely volatile. Year to year, you just don't know what you are going to get in terms of health and production. The key, then, is the diversify your holdings so that you do not have too much invested into one asset. This year, the Phillies appear to have done a better job of that than they did last season, when they signed Jonathan Papelbon to a monster contract but did not bring in a veteran set-up man to replace Ryan Madson. That meant the Phillies had a tremendous amount invested in players who had yet to prove themselves as consistent relievers. Sure, they had Jose Contreras and Chad Qualls, but Contreras was in his 40s and coming off elbow surgery and Qualls had been unable to hold down a job for the previous couple of seasons

This year, the Phillies paid $12 million over two seasons to sign arguably the top set-up man on the market in Mike Adams, then added Chad Durbin on a relatively cheap one-year deal. While neither player is a slam dunk. Both will be 34 years old, Adams is coming off a year in which his strikeout numbers dropped and he ended up having surgery to correct a condition called thoracic outlet syndrome, and Durbin has logged at least 60 innings out of the bullpen in each of the last five seasons (and his strikeout rate has dropped from 8.3 to 7.8 to 7.2 over the last three years). In Adams, Durbin and Antonio Bastardo, the Phillies at least have more than a couple of options who have the experience and stuff to pitch when the game is on the line. The Phillies season flat-lined last year in interleague play when it felt like every other day B.J. Rosenberg or Joe Savery or Michael Schwimer was on the mound pitching in a tie game in the eighth, ninth or 10th inning. The result felt inevitable. The only veteran safeguards they had in place last year were Contreras, who, again, was coming off major surgery and started the season on the DL, and Qualls, who, again, was Qualls. 

In short, Adams-Bastardo-Durbin > Bastardo-Contreras-Qualls.

That being said, what the Phillies really need is for one or two of their young relievers to reap the benefit of the roles they were thrust into last season. Lefty Jake Diekman and righties Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont all have the potential to pitch in the back end of a good major league bullpen. Diekman, at the very least, should be a tough lefty-on-lefty specialist. Factor in lefty Jeremy Horst, who had a sub-.500 OPS vs. lefties last season, and the Phillies have the potential to piece together a balanced group capable of handling the sixth and seventh innings while backing up Adams and Papelbon in save situations. 

And then there are wild cards like Mike Stutes, who was solid in 2011 but spent most of the last season nursing a shoulder injury that eventually required surgery, righthander Kyle Simon, who was acquired from the Orioles in the Jim Thome trade, and veteran non-roster invitee Juan Cruz, who has a strikeout arm that has been a bit too erratic the past few seasons. 

The Phillies' bullpen portfolio is much more diverse than it was last season. But don't be surprised if the success of the bullpen comes down to one or two of the young guys taking a step forward in their development. Injuries happen. Performance is volatile. Which is why the spring training competition could have serious implications for the regular season.  



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