MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Giants' bullpen still best in NL West

Veteran trio of Casilla, Romo, Affeldt get nod over Dodgers, Pads

Giants' bullpen still best in NL West

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Considering all the roster moves the Padres and Dodgers made during the offseason, the defending World Series-winning Giants still have the best bullpen in the tough National League West and perhaps the best manager in Major League Baseball to utilize it.

"I like our bullpen, and I should considering the job they've done for us," said that manager, Bruce Bochy. "[I like] their experience and they're so good at picking each other up. They're versatile. I have the flexibility of moving them around a little bit. It's a nice luxury to have. I don't know about the other bullpens, but I know I like my bullpen."

Bochy should. The core of it -- Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo and Jeremy Affeldt -- has helped the Giants win the World Series three times in the last five years. Meanwhile, their top challengers in the West have bullpen question marks heading into Spring Training that could trickle into the regular season.

The Dodgers lost closer Kenley Jansen for as long as three months after pre-camp surgery to remove a growth from a bone in his left foot. Even before that, with Chris Perez and Brian Wilson having departed in the offseason, there was some conjecture about the setup crew. And then Jansen went down, causing further turmoil. Jansen emerged to save 44 games last year. And with apologies to Takashi Saito and Jonathan Broxton, the Dodgers really haven't had a dominant closer since Eric Gagne recorded 152 saves from 2002-04. New Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said the club would use the six weeks of training camp to figure it all out.

"It's way too early," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "Guys are just going through their second bullpens now. We have a lot of quality arms, a lot of power arms. We'll evaluate it over the next month. I don't think the bullpen is in flux. I think it's just developing. The injuries will come. That always happens. We'll just see where we are in the next four or five weeks."

To be sure, the Padres have a great contingent of bullpen arms, but they head into the season with Joaquin Benoit as their probable closer. The right-hander has never filled that role for an entire season. The Tigers went to him in 2013 when Jose Valverde collapsed and he saved 24 games. Last year for the Padres, after Huston Street was traded to the Angels this past July 19, Benoit stepped into that role, but then missed a month with a sore shoulder.

In their colorful history, the Padres have always had a lights-out closer, a roster that includes Hall of Famers, Cy Young Award winners and the man who had 601 saves and leads the NL on the all-time list in that category. The roll call starts with Rollie Fingers and includes Goose Gossage, Mark Davis, Craig Lefferts and Trevor Hoffman. And even after Hoffman departed via free agency in 2008, he was followed by Heath Bell and Street, the team's only All-Star last season.

Had the Padres known they were going to rebuild the team in such short order under new general manager A.J. Preller, perhaps they never would have traded Street, who is under contract for a scant $7 million this year and saved 80 games for them in 2 1/2 seasons.

"Bullpens change from year to year," Preller said. "A bullpen that's historically good one year, are they going to be that good the next year? You try to give your manager options. We have a mixture of power and deception, of lefties and righties. I think we're in a decent spot going into the year 'pen wise."

Hoffman, who is the Padres' senior advisor of baseball operations, also said he's comfortable with the makeup of the big league bullpen, including such young arms as Brandon Maurer, Shawn Kelley, and Kevin Quackenbush, who saved six games in Benoit's absence last season. Preller obtained Maurer by trading Seth Smith to Seattle and got Kelley from the Yankees, during the offseason. And incidentally, Valverde is in camp on a Minor League contract trying to make the big club.

"Yeah, I am comfortable with it," Hoffman said. "I like the power arms we acquired in Maurer and Kelley. Obviously, Benoit on the backend has done it and did a decent job for us last year, saving 10 out of 11 until his shoulder got a little cranky. No, I think it's a little better than it looks on paper."

Bochy knows something about making a bullpen better from his San Diego days. Just to illustrate how crafty he is in massaging a bullpen, through most of his 12 years managing the Padres from 1995-2006, Bochy had Hoffman closing and designated seventh- and eighth-inning relievers in an all-right-handed bullpen. For awhile it was Hoffman, Scott Linebrink and Akinori Otsuka. And when Hoffman missed most of the 2003 season after shoulder surgery, the late Rod Beck stepped in and saved 20 games.

The Giants have two situational lefties in Affeldt and Javier Lopez, plus Hunter Strickland as a power arm to complement late-inning right-handers Casilla and Romo. When he wasn't starting, Yusmeiro Petit successfully ate up middle innings last year, particularly in the postseason.

In 2010 when the Giants defeated Texas in the World Series, Wilson was the closer, leading the league with 48 regular-season saves and adding six more in the postseason. Since Wilson succumbed to his second Tommy John surgery, Bochy has flip-flopped Romo and Casilla as the closer, but says Casilla has earned the job again heading into the season. Casilla has had 46 saves during the past three seasons while Romo has had 75.

So Bochy has adjusted using both styles of bullpen with equal success. Asked his secret about using relievers, Bochy said: "I have resources down there. I have a great bullpen with setup guys and middle-inning guys. They go out and do it. That's them, it's not me. That just enables you to call on any of them and they get the job done."

History dictates that somebody has to be the big guy at the back of the bullpen with all the component parts setting him up. Heading into another season, the Giants still have all that. At this point, the Dodgers and Padres are just trying to figure it out.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.