one of the big stories to watch this spring is how the jobs in the rotation and the bullpen get split among our young, talented pitchers: shelby miller, trevor rosenthal, joe kelly, and michael wacha all have looked sharp in spring training. carlos martinez remains held up in the DR with continuing visa issues, but is yet another high-ceiling name in the mix.
and these talented young arms are competing for too few spots. right now, it looks like there is one rotation spot and probably one or maybe two bullpen spots available. i think you can write wainwright, garcia, lynn, and westbrook into the rotation with a pen, barring injury. on the bullpen side, motte, mujica, boggs, rzepczynski, choate, and (probably) salas are likely to go north with six major league jobs.
how do you manage a bunch of guys with strong claims to major league jobs? i think the most common scenario discussed is sticking one guy in the rotation, one guy in the bullpen, and leave the rest in memphis rotation. other people might bump salas out of the bullpen and find a spot for a third rookie.
i'm wondering if there's a better solution.
premise 1: all of these guys are pretty good and could use some major league exposure. i think that's pretty fair. i will say that i think michael wacha, moreso than any of the others, needs to have his pro ball endurance built up if he's going to break into the rotation in the future. as much as he's impressed, i'd probably say he makes the most sense - for reasons of long-term development, if not for lack of aptitude - as a starter in memphis, untinkered with. he's pitched 21 professional innings. he needs to build up the arm strength to be a full-season starter. the others - miller, kelly, rosenthal, and martinez all have been able to manage multiple full seasons in a rotation.
premise 2: all of these guys are young and have most or all of their options available. rosenthal has two option years remaining, while the remaining candidates have all three. in any event, any of those three will burn an option if they're returned to memphis at any point, and i don't see how all three stay in the majors all season long. martinez and wacha are not yet on the 40-man.
to cut to the chase, i think the team is actually in an excellent spot to create a three-man rotation for two bullpen slots: let's say, among salas, kelly, and rosenthal.
since a player must stay down in the minors for ten days before he can be recalled, the rotation could run on a 30-day cycle, with each player staying in the majors for 20 days, and returning to the memphis club for 10 days. you'd always have two guys called up and one guy in memphis.
one advantage with this system would be that you could weight the usage of the relievers to favor major league service, and allow more rest in memphis. give the relievers 10 innings in their 20 days with the MLB club and 3 in their 10 days in memphis. the club would end up getting about 7.5 relievers' worth of pitching in 7 roster spots. the extra inning coverage might keep randy choate - who should never face a right-handed batter - to serve as a true specialist.
another advantage would be distributing MLB experience among several guys who need it. leaving wacha out of the equation, i think the remaining guys need to be challenged at a high level more than they need to be conditioned or to face regular rotation work in the minors.
for most clubs, their 6th and 7th relievers are barely replacement value, and swapping them up with an 8th guy would hardly be worth while. here, we are lucky enough to have several guys who could really make an impact with the MLB club. to boot, they all have most or all of their options intact. i think there's value in trying to maximize the innings these guys see in the majors. distributing the innings cleverly (at the expense of the memphis club) will tend to keep the bullpen as a whole fresher as the season goes on.
i can't think of when a club last had a similarly deliberate shuttle running between the majors and the minors. but it seems like an option for this team. i'm sure there are headaches associated with the scheme. maybe extra travel time taking a toll on players? though i'd imagine that the schedule could be tweaked appropriate where it suits the minor and major league clubs travel plans.
such a plan would require more planning and forethought, but i think it's an angle worth exploring for this club.