This is the 10th and final part in a series that will break down the storylines at each position in advance of spring training. At the plate today: relief pitcher.
What happened last year: Among National League teams, the relief corps ranked 14th in holds (62), 14th in save percentage (62.2) and 12th in blown saves (17).
Given their lack of experience at this level, right-handers Jesse Chavez, Steven Jackson and Evan Meek did as well as could be expected of them. The mid-season trades that sent Sean Burnett to the Washington Nationals and John Grabow to the Chicago Cubs left the bullpen without a dependable option at the left side in the final weeks of the season.
In 57 appearances, closer Matt Capps saw his earned run average balloon to 5.80 while he made good on only 27-of-32 save opportunities. After attempts to trade him failed, the veteran was allowed to walk out the free-agent door. In November, Chavez was dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for second baseman Akinori Iwamura.
In the hunt this year: Jackson, Meek, D.J. Carrasco, Brendan Donnelly, Octavio Dotel, Joel Hanrahan, Chris Jakubauskas, Wil Ledezma, Javier Lopez, Jack Taschner and Donnie Veal.
General manager Neal Huntington overhauled the bullpen with more established types this winter, when Carrasco, Donnelly, Dotel, Ledezma, Lopez and Taschner were signed as free agents. All are at least 30 years old and have spent considerable time in the major leagues. Thirty-seven pitchers have been invited to preseason camp, 19 of them on the 40-player roster. Among the 18 non-roster types, right-hander Brian Bass and left-hander Brian Burres could attract the most attention.
The leaders in the clubhouse: Carrasco, Donnelly, Dotel, Hanrahan, Lopez, Meek and Veal.
Donnelly (30, 3-0, 1.78) and Dotel (62, 3-3, 3.32) are all but givens as the set-up man and closer, respectively. Their veteran presences will allow the less experienced Hanrahan (67, 1-4 4.78) and Meek (41, 1-1, 3.45) to ease into similar roles. Based on his performance with the Boston Red Sox two seasons ago, Lopez (14, 0-2, 9.26) appears to have the inside track as the No. 1 left-hander. The versatile Carrasco (49, 5-1, 3.76) possesses the ability to fill any number of roles at the right side.
Veal (19, 1-0, 7.16) turned in an impressive performance in the Arizona Fall League recently, and the 25-year-old may have claimed the early lead for the second left-hander spot in the process. Ledezma (5, 0-0, 9.53) and Taschner (24, 1-1, 4.91) also are candidates for the roster berth.
Player to watch: Meek. The former Rule 5 draft pick displayed dominant stuff at times last season. In 46 innings, he allowed 34 hits and struck out 42 batters. He was death to righties, who hit .176 in 91 at-bats against him.
The big picture: The master plan calls for Meek, 26, and Hanrahan, 28, to inherit the late innings one year from now if not earlier. In the interim, Donnelly and Dotel have the potential to be sizeable upgrades over what was in place last season.
As for the left side, there's a dire need for a veteran to step forward in the weeks ahead. Daniel Moskos projects to be the top candidate for the role in the farm system, but the 23-year-old is said to be at least one year away from the big leagues.