The Fates of Forty Men 2009 – Part 3: Relief Pitching

The bullpen was one of the strengths of this team through most of the season.  There were some great stories of redemption, resurgence, and long-awaited debuts.  If the starters could have gotten through at least six innings a regular basis, the relief guys probably would have looked even better down the stretch.

The bullpen, though, is one of those areas on many teams that gets re-tooled from year to year.  Pitching is such a hot commodity, it’s often tough for a small market club to retain their best players once they reach free agency.  The Brewers have been following a fairly prudent model the last several seasons by starting with a solid closer and working backwards.

They got step #1 taken care of for 2010 by locking up Trevor Hoffman right away on Tuesday.  Oh, and speaking of season reviews and the mainstream sports media: I have to mention that Adam McCalvy from has a pretty nice summary of everything that went right and wrong for the Brewers this year, so if you missed it, I think it’s worth a look.

* – player is a lock to be on the 25-man opening day roster
** – a good bet for the 25-man
Trevor Hoffman* – Baseball’s all-time saves leader did exactly what was expected: solidified the back of the bullpen and served as an outstanding role model for all the young guys on the team.  For a guy to come in here at 41, convert his first 13 save chances while en route to an eventual 37, and never have a whiff of an injury after recovering from a strained oblique in spring training, that’s all pretty remarkable.  Getting him back in the fold immediately (and still at a relatively affordable price) will allow Doug Melvin to focus on bigger problems.
Todd Coffey* – Always a fan favorite when he sprints out the ‘pen to reach the mound, Coffey continued to show why Melvin knew what he was doing when he plucked this guy off Cincinnati’s scrap heap last September.  There were a few rare occasions that he couldn’t get a hold or wound cough up some runs, but the guy led the staff with 78 appearances and racked up a 2.90 ERA.  He started the year by not allowing a run in 16 straight appearances.  Definitely will be back, as the Brewers have control of his contract through arbitration.
Mitch Stetter* – I remember watching his first game of the year on TV, and he walked the first batter he faced on 4 pitches so far outside the zone it was like Ricky Vaughn had taken the mound.  After the butterflies settled down in that first inning, Stetter became the stalwart lefty out of the Brewers bullpen.  Like Brian Shouse did in 2008 and to a lesser extent in ’07, Stetter showed that he was more than strictly a lefty specialist.  At one point in June, he set a franchise record by setting down 15 straight batters (over the course of several appearances) via strikeout.  Stetter is also up for arbitration and should be back.
David Riske** – I know what you’re saying– “David who??”  Riske signed a nice, affordable 3-year deal in the winter of 2008, in part because he had a solid record of staying healthy and doing a good job of locating his pitches.  In his first season with Milwaukee, he pitched in 45 games but was banged up most of the way, and banged around more than a couple times.  In ’09, he appeared in one game before being shut down for the year with elbow problems.  Unless the Brewers decide they have better options or can include him as a throw-in on a trade, expect him back for another go-’round in 2010.
Mark DiFelice** – Last year, I wrote that DiFelice making the opening day roster would be a bad sign for the Brewers.  In a way, it turned out to be true, but not because of anything DiFelice did.  Last winter, he perfected a much bally-hooed cut fastball, and the 32-year-old rookie baffled enough hitters with it to strike out 48 in 51 2/3 innings.  The burden of too many innings is probably what did DiFelice and his shoulder in back in August.  The Brewers have exclusive rights to tender him a contract for next season.
Carlos Villaneuva** – Villaneuva showed once again that he is at his best in short stints out the bullpen; his time as a fill-in starter did not go well.  He still gives up a lot of hits in bunches, but then will come back and strike out 2 or 3 in order.  One thing I noticed about him this year is more of a bulldog-type attitude.  He seems to an anti-Parra in a way, doing whatever’s asked of him, and not appearing to get too riled no matter what.  He’s arbitration eligible for the first time and will probably be back.
Chris Smith – Smith bounced back and forth from Nashville to Milwaukee around mid-season while the team was scrambling to find some fresh arms after the starters went in the tank or on the DL.  He threw some good innings, and definitely got better as time went on.  Ended up with 35 appearances.  He’ll probably get a nice long look down in Arizona, but whether or not he sticks depends on what the Brewers are able to acquire in terms of free agents.
David Weathers – In his second turn with Brewers, the journeyman righty dished up 26 hits and 13 earned runs in just 24 innings of work, covering 25 appearances.  The Crew picked him up from the Reds on August 9, when their desperation for anybody that could take the ball for an inning or two was at its peak.  Paying the buyout on his contract could be $400,000 of the best dollars Melvin spends this winter.
Claudio Vargas – Another late-season pickup, this time from the Dodgers in exchange for basically nothing (just Vinny Rottino), the erstwhile Brewers starter threw exclusively from the ‘pen and displayed some of that rare talent for pitching into and out of some remarkable jams.  Who knows?  He might’ve escaped a few more if Ken Macha would have given him the sort of leash he had with Ned Yost back in ’07.  Vargas is a free agent that Melvin has already cut once before.  They might give him a look, but I’d be surprised to see him back (almost as surprised as Vargas was in August when he found out he was coming back to Milwaukee).
Seth McClung – After a brilliant ’08 when Big Red seemed to come into his own, and a winter during which he was seriously discussed as a 5th starter, he was back to inconsistent mop-up duty for long stretches in 2009, before succumbing to the injury bug.  The Brewers have arbitration rights with McClung, but may decide that their money is better spent elsewhere.
John Axford – A one-time Yankees cast-0ff, Axford was a late addition to the 40-man after playing parts of the year at single-A, double-A, and triple-A.  He’s another guy who could factor in with a good spring in 2010.
Omar Aguilar – Split 2009 between high-A Brevard County and AA Huntsville.  Playing in the Arizona Fall League, but it would be pretty shocking to see him with the Brewers in 2010.  Nashville, if he’s lucky.
Alex Periard – Threw 42 innings covering 12 starts between Wisconsin and Brevard.  Another would-be shocker for making the team.
Mark Rogers – The Brewers first-round pick in the 2004 draft finally played a full season in the minors without setbacks.  Also going to Arizona for the Fall League, but will not be ready to contribute in Milwaukee until at LEAST 2011.
Cody Scarpetta – Only on the 40-man roster because of a technicality regarding the way he was signed.  Played at single-A Wisconsin in 2009, no chance of playing for the Brewers in 2010.

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