Sep 17, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcherCraig Kimbrel
(46) pitches against the Washington Nationals during the ninth inning at Turner Field. The Braves defeated the Nationals 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
2. Atlanta Braves
Even though Fredi Gonzalez’s bullpen will look different in 2015 with the loss of setup man David Carpenter (traded to the Yankees along with Chasen Shreve for Manny Banuelos) and reliever Anthony Varvaro (signed with the Red Sox), the conversation for Atlanta’s bullpen starts and ends with closer Craig Kimbrel.
Kimbrel, a four-time All-Star at age 26, has saved 40 or more games in each of the last four seasons. Last season, he saved 47 games in 51 chances. The 47 saves were the most in the National League. He had nearly 14 strikeouts per nine innings and held his opponents to a .142 average for the entire season.
What remains to be seen is if the Braves can put together a good bridge to Kimbrel. They signed former Pirates’ reliever Jason Grilli to a two-year deal this winter to try to help with the eighth inning. The 38-old struggled in Pittsburgh last season (4.87 ERA in 16 games) before being dealt to the Angels. However, the NL could help Grilli return to the form he had in Pittsburgh from 2011-2013 when he had a sub-three ERA in all three seasons.
Atlanta also signed Jim Johnson this offseason to a one-year deal. The former Orioles closer had a 7.09 ERA last year with Detroit and Oakland and hasn’t been the same pitcher since those playoff blown saves against the Yankees. If Johnson can return to form in the set-up spot, that will give Atlanta some options for their middle relief.
Kimbrel still remains one of the faces of a re-building Braves franchise. While he is arguably the best closer in the game, that alone can’t put the Braves at number one on this list.
Next: Number One?