The 2016 Seattle Mariners Bullpen Possibilities

Bullpen Biggest Question Mark For M’s

The Seattle Mariners rotation and lineups are pretty well set headed into spring.  Sure, there could be a few surprises after spring training concludes but nothing seems as unsettled for the M’s as their bullpen.

Unlike the possibilities for the 2016 Seattle Mariners lineups or the Mariners starting rotation, the M’s bullpen has to be the one area of the team that has the most left to be determined.  Many spots in the bullpen are up for grabs and will likely come down to the results during spring training.

Despite the near impossibility of predicting the outcome of bullpen performance during Cactus League play, let’s explore what the Mariners bullpen will most likely look like in 2016.

You'll see a new name and a new delivery from the M's closer this year.

You’ll see a new name and a new delivery from the M’s closer this year.

The Back End

Starting with the easiest to predict, we’ll start at the back end of the M’s bullpen.  The M’s new closer will undoubtedly be Steve Cishek, baring come kind of major meltdown or injury.  The Mariners acquired their new closer via free agency, one of the few free agents new GM Jerry Dipoto pursued.

Cishek had 30+ save seasons in 2013 and 2014.  Early 2015 struggles took him out of the closer’s role and then eventually out of town when the Marlins traded him to the Cardinals. 

Dipoto is clearly betting on a bounce back year from Cishek.  The strategy of acquiring guys who have had a down year and hoping for a bounce back is something we’ve seen repeatedly from Dipoto this offseason.

Joaquin Benoit figures to slide into the setup role in the eighth inning.  Calling Benoit “experienced” is the kind way of saying he’s 38 years old and it might be wishful thinking on Dipoto’s part to think that Benoit can keep up the level of performance he’s sustained for a long time.  Benoit has not had an ERA greater than 3.00 since 2008 when he was pitching for the Rangers.

Opposite Benoit I put my stock in Charlie Furbush as the guy the M’s will roll out to the mound to face a tough lefty late in the game.  Furbush is the only name left in the M’s bullpen that has any serious time spent as part of the Mariners bullpen.  Furbush also just concluded the best year of his still young career finishing the 2015 campaign with ERA of 2.08 and a WHIP of just 0.65.

Scribner is one of many newcomers Dipoto is hoping to see have a bounce back season.

Scribner is one of many newcomers Dipoto is hoping to see have a bounce back season.

The Middle Men

Things get much more complicated when you move to the next layer of the M’s bullpen.  Not only are virtually of the names new to the organization but you also have to start deciding just how many relievers you can carry on the 25 man roster.

With the M’s likely featuring platoons in left field, first base, and having a backup catcher.  That accounts for 12 positions.  Add five starting pitchers and you have used 17 of 25 roster spots.  Furbush, Benoit and Cishek are locked in so that means there are just five spots left on the roster with at least nine guys that want to earn of them.

Four of those five remaining spots will fall to middle relievers.  These are the guys that come in to work an inning or two in the 5th-7th innings.  The candidates for these four positions are Evan Scribner, Vidal Nuno, Justin De Fratus, Tony Zych, Ryan Cook, Jonathan Aro, Mayckol Guaipe, David Rollins, and Cody Martin.

Dispensing with a lot of drama, I’ll go ahead tell you right now that I believe Scribner, De Fratus, and Zych are going to be three of those four.  Dipoto invested considerably in both Scribner and De Fratus in order to acquire their services.  These two are also the two on this list that have the most MLB experience.

As far as Zych goes, I just love his arm.  While it’s true Zych has thrown very few pitches at the big league level, I love this kid’s demeanor and lighting bolt for a right arm.  Besides, every great bullpen always has that one young, overachiever.  My money is on Zych to fill that role for the M’s in 2016.

The last of my four available middle relief spots is a bit of a crap shoot.  I really think it has to be decided during spring ball as virtually every remaining name is unproven at the big league level or has a serious health issue to consider.  That said, I promised a name, and here it is– Jonathan Aro.

Without spring ball to look at, I give the nod to Aro.  He has just 10 innings of MLB experience that quite frankly weren’t that productive but it’s the minor league numbers he’s put up in comparison to the rest of his competitors that stands out– in five minor league seasons he’s a combined ERA of less than 3.00 and a WHIP just over 1.00.

The Long Man

The final spot in the M’s roster and in their bullpen has to be for a guy who can not only be a middle reliever but a guy who can come in and give you several innings in the event a starter explodes early and the manager has to go to the pen early.  That means it has to be a guy who is versatile and given that all of the other middle relievers I have chosen thus far are right handed, it wouldn’t hurt if he was a lefty so that the M’s had two lefties in the pen.

With all that in mind I go with Nuno as the M’s long man in the bullpen.  He has the proven ability to come into a game early and put up several innings and he’s also a guy that can give you a spot start.  Additionally, the M’s can utilize Nuno as a lefty specialist when they need a key out against a tough lefty bat in the middle innings.

Nuno's versatility makes him a key M's bullpen member.

Nuno’s versatility makes him a key M’s bullpen member.

The Final Look

Long Vidal Nuno L
MR Evan Scribner R
MR Justin De Fratus R
MR Tony Zych R
MR Jonathan Aro R
SU Charlie Furbush L
SU Joaquin Benoit R
CL Steve Cishek R


This pen means guys like Rollins, Martin, Guaipe, and Cook are going to have to either move on or continue the battle at AAA Tacoma to start the year.  The Mariners could easily come to the conclusion that they need an extra guy on the bench too.  That would mean that someone like Aro could be out as well to make room for another fielder.

Spring training is now less than a month away.  Many of the decisions will be made then and it’s going to be one of the most interesting springs we’ve seen for the Mariners in a very long time.

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About Brian Scott

Husband, Philosopher, Animal Rights Advocate, and Author Brian is a Spokane native and Gonzaga University grad. Seahawks, Mariners, GU Hoops and Cougar football are the teams that drive his passion for sports. You can catch him on twitter too! Connect with Brian today!
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