It’s not stretch to say that the Atlanta Braves bullpen, headed by strikeout machine Craig Kimbrel, has been one of the very best in the league over the last couple of years. The team even added to it in the off-season, acquiring hard-throwing (but fairly wild) Jordan Walden, the former closer of the Los Angeles Angels, to the mix.
That should mean that someone is going to end up the odd man out, right? Well, maybe.
Whether or not the Braves’ pen is out of room for not isn’t something the team can determine at this point, mostly because they don’t know if they’ll have Walden ready. According to Mark Bowman of MLB.com, the team isn’t quite sure whether the righty, who was missed significant time this spring with a bulging disc in his back, will end up on the DL or be ready on Opening Day.
If he’s not ready, then the team will go with the status quo route from last season, and have both Cristhian Martinez and Anthony Varvaro fill in the final slots in the bullpen.
The Braves would rather that not happen, though. They’d rather have the fireballer Walden ready — and if in fact he is ready to go, Bowman writes that the team will ”have plenty of reason to attempt to trade either Varvaro or Martinez by the end of this week.”
They’ll do so because both pitchers are out of options, and will more than likely be picked up on the waiver wire should the team attempt to return them to the minors.
Between the two of them, I’d imagine that Martinez will be the one most likely to be moved. The soft-tossing 31-year old has more experience around his belt (203.2 IP), and is coming off a solid 0.7 fWAR season in 2012 where he posted a solid 7.94 K/9 to 2.32 BB/9.
While he’s doesn’t have the kind of upside that would make most teams comfortable with him in the ninth, Martinez would provide a sound middle reliever to any team needing some depth.
The other reason why I think Varvaro will stick? Upside.
The Braves don’t need him in a high-leverage situation, but the 28-year old righty throws in the mid-90s (93.2 mph average in 2012), and he strikes out more batters (9.87 K/9 over 44.2 career innings). Not dominant stuff, but there’s enough to perhaps groom him into a setup role one day.
Either way, the next evolution of the Braves’ formidable bullpen is imminent, and one of them will likely end up as the unfortunate victim of a roster crunch.