Oakland Athletics: The Battle for Bullpen Spots

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Oakland Athletics will have a great number of relievers vying for only seven or so bullpen spots this spring

With Spring Training just around the corner, there will be some positions for which multiple players will be competing for the starting role. This will be the case for the bullpen spots. Currently on the A’s depth chart, there are nine relief pitchers, but there will probably only be seven spots available. So, who will make the cut?

It is clear that as long as Sean Doolittle is healthy, he will be the Athletics’ closer in 2016. So, that is one spot filled. Then, it is expected that all of the new relievers who joined the team this offseason will at least get a chance to show their stuff at the Major League level. Whether they stay in Oakland’s bullpen throughout the entire season is another question. This would include Ryan Madson, Liam Hendriks, Marc Rzepczynski, and John Axford. With five spots already filled, that only leaves two up for grabs.

Many are hoping that rookie Ryan Dull will demonstrate the same success this spring that he found early in September of 2015. He did struggled toward the end of that month, but Dull ultimately proved that he can pitch at the major league level despite having never risen above Double-A in the minors. However, the A’s may find that it would be beneficial for Dull’s growth to start him in Triple-A – at least at the beginning of this season. Oakland will definitely be watching him closely during Spring Training in March. 

Then there is also Fernando Rodriguez and R.J. Alvarez. Rodriguez performed better than Alvarez is 2015, but Rodriguez also saw more playing time in the majors than Alvarez. Even though Alvarez struggled last season, he has been successful in the past. Perhaps last year was just an off-year for Alvarez. If Alvarez can return to form, he and Rodriguez could be battling for one of the remaining spots in the bullpen since they are both right handed relievers. 

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There are also the the leftover starting pitchers to consider like Felix Doubront and Aaron Brooks. Both spent time as starters and relievers during the 2015 season. However, it is not likely either of them will make the cut for both the rotation and bullpen this year. They will just provide more pitching depth for the A’s to utilize throughout the season.

Lastly, there is the question of Jarrod Parker and whether or not he will return to the big leagues as a relief pitcher or a starter. Even though it is clear that he and the A’s would like him to continue as a starting pitcher, his elbow may not be able to handle the workload of a starter after undergoing two Tommy John surgeries and recovering from a broken elbow. If he demonstrates that he can still pitch effectively at the major league level, but is not strong enough to be a starter, the Athletics will definitely make room for Parker in the bullpen.

The Oakland Athletics are not afraid to re-arrange the bullpen if certain relievers are not performing well, which is why the A’s like to have a lot pitching depth. This spring, Oakland will closely watch all of the pitchers vying to fill the remaining two bullpen spots. As we saw last year with Kendall Graveman, if a player is exceptionally successful during spring camp, the Oakland Athletics will reward him with a position on the Opening Day roster.

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Who do you think will be sitting in the bullpen on Opening Day? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

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