Wednesday, January 14, 2004

The Second Lefty in the Pen 

It sounds like most of the big moves the M's are going to make are done. But right now, we have a 40-man roster with only 3 left-handed bullpen candidates on it, and only Eddie Guardado has major league experience. The M's haven't had a regular 2nd lefty in the pen since the glorious days of fellow Rice-alum Norm Charlton. If there is a move the M's might make in the next month, it may be to add a second lefty to the pen. Here's a quick look at some ideas for this position.

Matt Thornton has been plagued by injuries, missing most of 2002 with Tommy John surgery and last year battled a pinched nerve in his neck. The Mariners sent Thornton, a starter all of his career, to the Arizona Fall League with strict orders that he be used in relief in order to gauge how ready he is for the bullpen. He did not overwhelm with a 9.22 ERA, but Thornton still struck out 13 batters in 13.2 IPs while walking just four. My guess is he gets some more recovery time in AAA.

Bobby Madritsch had a breakout season in 2003, but is likely to remain as a starter at AAA for now, to give him time to develop a breaking ball. If he remains a mid-90's fastball/changeup guy, then the bullpen may be his final destination, but my guess is that the M's will give him another year in the minors to see if he can be a starter for them.

George Sherrill may not be a name most M's fans are familiar with, but the stocky left-hander posted eye-popping stats (27.1 IP, 19 H, 1 HR, 1 ER, 31 K, 12 BB - 0.33 ERA) in 16 relief appearances for the Missions. He is a 4-year veteran of independent ball and his AA season got him a trip to the AFL where he did well, posting a 2.70 ERA in 13.1 innings. He will get a long look in the Spring if no other signing is made.

Bring back Norm Charlton. Its a long-shot for the 41 year old to make a comeback, but if anyone can do it... Why not?

Scott Sauerbeck was non-tendered by the Red Sox after a mediocre season where he was dealt at the trade deadline by the Pirates. He walked way too many last year after a very nice 2002 campaign, and may be too expensive for what you get.

Mike Bynum. Just released by the Padres, the man has a nasty slider and is well-suited for a relief role. Acquiring him would cost very little, except the roster shuffling.

Mike Matthews had a 4.45 ERA in 64 2/3 innings for the Padres last year, and should be worthy of a major league roster spot, especially as he is just 32 years old.

Mark Guthrie has had two straight years of sub-3.00 ERA in lefty specialist roles for the Cubs and Mets. He is the definition of journeyman having played for 6 different teams over the past 5 years including three separate stints with the Cubs.

Given the choices, I'd like to see us add Mike Bynum for depth and see if he, Thornton or Sherrill can break with the team. And, of course, give Norm a Spring Training invite, and sign him us a developmental coach if he doesn't make it back. M's management might sign one of the more proven commodities, and look to deal them later in the year (there are always lefty relievers dealt at the trade deadline) if one of their younger options prove themselves in the minors.

Update: Looks like Norm's comeback attempt is serious. He is giving it another shot this year, and if it fails, his first choice will be to return to the M's as a roving instructor. I would love to see Norm staring down opposing hitters one more year, so good luck Norm!

Update 2: Apparently, I should read news sites before I post. My favorite M's writer, Larry Larue, writes about the M's search for a second lefty in today's Tribune. Larry adds Travis Blackley and Mike Myers to the list of possible candidates. I would prefer to see Blackley break in as a starter or a long reliever and not in the one or two batter mode most second lefties are used as. I hope he starts the year in Tacoma, continues to pitch lights out, and comes up mid-year to give the M's rotation a shot in the arm and never returns to the minors. Myers may have a leg up as he has pitched for Melvin in the past, though not particularly well.

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