Though it's only November 26, it looks like the Texas Rangers will boast a significantly revamped bullpen in 2012 than they did in 2013.
As of today, Texas' bullpen is, well, in a word, thin -- but plenty of moves will likely come.
Joe Nathan will return as Texas' closer in 2013, as he plays out the final year of his two-year, $14 million dollar deal.
Robbie Ross will certainly have a prominent role, after an extremely successful rookie season. Ross turned heads in spring training, made the team out of camp, and pitched 65 solid innings for the Rangers in 2012.
Tanner Scheppers will likely be given an opportunity during spring training to lock down one of the vacant spots in the bullpen.
After that, though, it's anybody's guess.
Jon Daniels is faced with the tough task of rebuilding Texas' bullpen. The Rangers are moving Alexi Ogando back into the starting rotation. Mike Adams, was injured late in the season and would have missed the ALDS had the Rangers advanced, will almost certainly leave via free agency. Koji Uehara and Mark Lowe will also likely depart through free agency.
Ogando, Adams, Uehara and Lowe combined for 191 relief appearances in 2012, and logged a total of of 190 and 2/3 innings of work out of the bullpen. That's a lot of production to replace, and a lot of solid production.
Oh yeah, Scott Feldman, Texas' swing reliever, will also be on another team in 2013.
So what does that mean, exactly?
It means that Daniels has a lot of crafty work to do. Brandon League, yes, the mediocre Brandon League who has never posted an fWAR higher than 1.3 in a given season, inked a three-year, $22.5 million dollar deal, skewing the market.
As if signing relievers in free agency wasn't already a poor idea, the contracts given to League and Affeldt so early in the offseason make it an especially poor idea this year. Daniels isn't stupid -- he's one of the top executives in all of baseball, and he'll likely avoid an overpriced and overrated crop of free agent relievers.
In 2011, Daniels went through the trade market to shore up the bullpen. Neftali Feliz, who should be back at some point in 2013, and Darren Oliver were the only major returning members of the 2010 bullpen. Daniels acquired both Mike Adams and Koji Uehara to fortify the bullpen, and both Adams and Uehara remained highly productive relievers for the Rangers in 2012 -- though, Uehara's 2011 struggles are fairly well documented.
Of course, Texas will have a slew of young pitchers who will try to compete for a spot in Texas' bullpen as well. Michael Kirkman, Justin Grimm, Joe Ortiz, and Tommy Hottovy will likely all have opportunities to win a spot in Texas' bullpen out of the spring, though, counting on any of them for a significant role is a giant leap of faith.
So, what do we know about Texas' 2013 bullpen? We know that Joe Nathan will close. We know that Robbie Ross will set up, and we know that Tanner Scheppers will probably be in the bullpen.
Other than that, we don't know a whole lot -- other than the fact that things will be very, very different.
Perhaps the most interesting consequence of Texas' bullpen shuffle is how manager Ron Washington handles it. For the past year and a half, Washington has had a just-add-water bullpen, knowing that he had either Feliz or Nathan for the ninth inning, Adams for the eighth, and either Ogando or Ross for the seventh.
Now in 2013, Washington will have to find a new formula -- and he'll have to know when to mix and match, and abandon his formula if it goes awry.
While all the attention is on Josh Hamilton's impending departure, Texas' bullpen is a major storyline this winter. We'll see in the coming months what Daniels comes up with.