Teams have already begun to learn that to win for the long haul, and sometimes even in the short term, it is completely necessary to build from within in 2012’s version of baseball. The Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals have expanded on this idea during this season’s stretch run by calling up elite young arms Dylan Bundy and Shelby Miller not only to get their feet wet, but to serve as potentially vital weapons out of the bullpen.
I really love these call-ups for both teams. Bundy and Miller have exhibited as young minor league starters that they have the stuff to compete at the highest level, and that they be positive contributors right away for their parent clubs. Perhaps this solution–using cheap talent culled from the farm system–is going to continue becoming a more prevalent way to bolster bullpens during the stretch run across Major League Baseball. It makes a lot of sense, could even result in better returns than a veteran acquisition, and is significantly cheaper in the here and now.
Plenty of teams jump into the trade market in July in search of relief corps; maybe relievers don’t have the most crucial roles on a baseball team, but their exploits certainly get a ton of exposure. What happens late in games is often what’s noticed the most, and fans and analysts alike are quick to enter panic mode after one too many bullpen meltdowns. Trading for relief help out of desperation usually means giving up some type of talent from the farm system (albeit not always a particularly sought-after prospect), and it can also mean forking over a decent amount of salary considerations depending on the pitcher in question. By calling on top emerging arms at the minor league level, teams can quash their reliance on other general managers when it comes to restocking the bullpen. You risk messing with a prospect’s service time, sure, but this may be a relative bargain when compared with scrambling for a guy to fill the seventh inning every other night.
Pitchers like Bundy and Miller also get a chance to hone their craft in important, pivotal situations without the added pressure of immediately beginning their big league careers as starters. Plenty of top pitching prospects have begun briefly out of the bullpen; starting in relief allows the young hurlers to work on their offerings and get a feel for the increased spotlight and improved competition without having to worry about going six or seven or eight innings in the process. Using only their best weapons and going full bore in a short stint, pitchers with the repertoire Bundy or Miller possesses also have the ability to simply baffle opposing lineups in the last month or so of the season. Seeing these guys one time through or less certainly doesn’t make them easier to hit.
There is certainly plenty of precedence for this sort of roster move. The Cardinals used a baby version of Adam Wainwright to close out games during their 2006 World Series season, the Rays got playoff mileage out of David Price, and the Rangers stuck with Neftali Feliz perhaps too long in the relief role. While teams have tried using their top prospects as Major League threats in September and October before, you have to wonder if this trend will continue to blossom into something more. After all, why trade for someone like the current version Jonathan Broxton when your ace starting pitching prospect may offer you just as viable a solution without the cost? Not all teams may have the option, but for those that do, it’s worth thinking long and hard about.