The Colorado Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd has made the bullpen a priority this offseason, and the results are admirable.
Closer Huston Street is in the second year of the three year, $22.5 million deal he signed before the 2010 season. Street is looking for a bounceback season in 2011, after he struggled with arm injuries throughout Spring Training and missed the first six weeks of the season. When healthy, Street is an elite relief pitcher and the anchor of the Rockies’ bullpen.
Following Street is one of the best eighth inning men in baseball, Rafael Betancourt. Acquired at the 2009 trade deadline, Betancourt has been spectacular in a Rockies’ uniform, including posting an otherworldly 12.9 K/9 rate. Betancourt also signed an extension this offseason, making him a Rockie through 2012.
Matt Lindstrom joins Betancourt in the eighth inning. Lindstrom was acquired this offseason from the Houston Astros and signed a two year, $6.6 million extension with Colorado. He profiles as another power arm in the late innings, and the most likely insurance for closer in case Street struggles to stay healthy.
Matt Belisle, the hero of the 2010 bullpen, will return this season as well. Belisle signed a two year extension with Colorado to avoid arbitration. A former first round selection by the Cincinnati Reds, Belisle finally found his role as a late inning bullpen member last season and thrived in the role, pitching 92 innings with a 2.93 ERA.
These four elite relievers are all signed through at least the 2012 season, reinforcing the idea that this Rockies team has been built to contend for years to come. Together, they make for one of the very best bullpens in baseball.
Franklin Morales and Matt Reynolds slot as the left-handed pitchers. Reynolds excelled in his callup last fall after a breakthrough season in AAA Colorado Springs, and is expected to make the team out of camp. Morales, no longer seen as an elite starting pitcher, still holds quite a bit of talent but has yet to harness his potential for long stretches of time. If either of these pitchers struggle, Colorado prospect Rex Brothers — a sandwich selection in the 2008 draft — will likely be the first player called up. He has posted elite numbers in AA and appears MLB-ready for a debut in 2011.
There is intense competition for the long-man role within the bullpen as well. Prospect Esmil Rogers showed flashes of brilliance in 2010, but holds an option and can be sent down as part of the AAA Sky Sox rotation. Rogers would be the likely candidate as an emergency callup in case of injury to a starter. Former Houston Astros pitcher Felipe Paulino, acquired in the Clint Barmes trade, is the favorite for the long-man role, as he no longer has any options. If Paulino fails to make the team out of camp, he’ll have to pass through waivers to stay within the Rockies’ organization.
As a whole, the Rockies have experienced, proven relievers at the top of their bullpen. They have younger players with talent in the lower ranks, and several prospects waiting in the wings to make appearances this season. Bullpens are traditionally unpredictable from year to year, but this group has a chance to be one of the very best in the National League. The best part? They are set in stone for at least the next two season.