The signings of Hong-Chih Kuo and Shawn Camp to Major League contracts have restricted the likely openings on the Seattle bullpen for all those candidates that Jack Zduriencik gathered over the winter like an adorable little pika. With those two plus George Sherrill and Brandon League, the consensus is that the bullpen is already taking semi-rigid shape, like the frame of a tent with only the rain flaps and other doodads left to perch on top.
The favorites to make the trip to Japan along with their three-year weighted tRA+s:
Closer: Brandon League (117)
LH short: George Sherrill* (99) [signing link]
RH short: Shawn Camp (96) [signing link]
LH middle: Hong-Chih Kuo* (114) [signing links]
RH middle: Shawn Kelley (130)
LH long: Charlie Furbush* (81)
RH long: Tom Wilhelmsen (107)
The roles laid out are not requirements of course. The Mariners don't need to carry both a left and right-handed long man. The players drive the roles, not the other way around. I find it amusing though how cleanly it breaks down with this group of seven. The back three do not have much Major League experience, so take their weighted tRA+s with more salt than the first four, whom you should still take with quite a bit of salt because they are relievers. It's a lot of salt all together so I suggest having a friend or perhaps a nemesis assist you with the intake. Why salt anyways? Is that implying they are bland tasting or perhaps rotting? This is weird.
On the outside, overhanging but not overshadowing, is Mount Pile:
Matt Fox [signing link]
Steve Garrison* [signing link]
Aaron Heilman [signing link]
Sean Henn* [signing link]
Cesar Jimenez* [out of options]
Josh Kinney [signing link]
Lucas Luetge* [rule 5] [selecting link]
Jeff Marquez [signing link]
Scott Patterson [signing link]
Oliver Perez* [signing link]
Phillippe-Alexandre Valiquette* [info link]
There's a few interesting names on that list. And there's a few interesting players on that list. Those two sets overlap but are not identical. I see that some people are puzzled by the Shawn Camp addition coming at the Major League expense of one of the above players, but I am unconcerned and even slightly happy at his coming aboard (nautical term). Perusing Mount Pile, none of those people strike me as substantially more likely than Camp to offer 50 league average innings of relief. The difference between what he's projected to produce and what some combination of rocks would is proabably minimal and ultimately meaningless for 2012's playoff odds, but I don't find that makes Camp a waste.
Camp isn't young and is unlikely to be a meaningful part of any kind of future, but he does provide some depth that I think is useful. It would be really great for the fans if the Mariners avoided a third-consecutive 90-loss season and though Camp isn't going to single-handedly stem that tide (nautical term), he can be one more minor fail safe to prevent a 2010-everyone-sucks-we're-screwed situation from arising again. I wrote previously about my concerns surrounding the lack of quality hitting depth behind the starters and I shared similar reservations about the pitching. Kuo and Camp help to mitigate that. It makes it a little less likely that the bullpen is horrifying in 2012.
My hunch is that if Camp were brought in on another of the minor league contracts plus Spring Training invite deals, then nobody would raise a peep of concern. That it is the guaranteed roster spot that wiggles against some people. That doesn't bother me either for a couple reasons. As Jeff pointed out, Ruffin and Delabar — the two most oft-cited to be left high and dry (nautical term) by Camp's signing — both have very limited time at the Triple-A level so neither would simply be twiddling their thumbs. Ruffin jumped from Double-A to the Majors with Detroit before heading down to their AAA-affilate Toledo for 15 innings. Delabar made a 13-inning pit stop in Tacoma on his third stop of a four-level trip last season that began in High Desert and ended with a whopping seven Major League innings. Neither had the sort of dominant 2011 seasons that suggest some time in Triple-A would go to waste.
More importantly, relievers are volatile creatures by nature of their small sample opportunities and they, being pitchers and being pitchers without the benefit of a weekly routine, tend to get hurt a lot. Shawn Kelley was injured last year. Hong-Chih Kuo was injured last year. George Sherrill was injured last year. By and large (nautical term), the Mariners may not break camp with the absolute best bullpen they could muster, but that means almost nothing. Bullpens fluctuate constantly throughout the season unless they're rolling good and healthy; so if someone like Chance Ruffin starts in Tacoma, there's still little impeding him from being a Mariner come May and a month of relief usage only represents approximately 11 innings of pitching. It's not a big deal.