With Bell signing, rest of 'pen falling into place

With Bell signing, rest of 'pen falling into place

With Bell signing, rest of 'pen falling into place
MIAMI -- Putting the finishing touches on the roster remains a work in progress for the Marlins. As the team surveys the market for an established starting pitcher, one area of the club is just about set.

The bullpen has taken shape with the free-agent signing of Heath Bell. By adding an All-Star lock-down closer, the team now has a good idea of how the rest of the 'pen will fall into place.

The front office feels Bell's presence will have a trickle-down effect.

"There is that confidence in our starters, if they get us late into the game [they can win]," president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "The 'pen has a lot of mix and match and then Heath at the end. That gives us a pretty good shot."

An unknown remains the status of Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez). Oviedo is on Major League Baseball's restricted list, and he remains in the Dominican Republic dealing with legal issues involving his identity.

The Marlins tendered Oviedo, who is in his final year of arbitration, a contract for 2012. If he stays, he would become the front-runner to set up in the eighth inning. Miami also may look to trade Oviedo, who has closer experience.

"We'll see with J.C., and how that all works out," Beinfest said.

The Marlins felt their bullpen was a strength in 2011, a year in which the relievers were heavily used. Collectively, their relievers posted a 3.42 ERA, seventh best in the big leagues.

Edward Mujica also is in the mix to work the eighth. Randy Choate is a lefty specialist, and Mike Dunn is a left-hander with a 95-mph fastball.

Ryan Webb and Steve Cishek each should factor into the seventh- or eighth-inning slots. Both can pitch multiple innings, making them long-relief candidates as well.

Several prospects will get a look in Spring Training, including Chris Hatcher, Jose Ceda, Dan Jennings and Evan Reed.

For the long-relief spot, the Marlins have a few starters who may wind up being used in different roles. Wade LeBlanc, Alex Sanabia and Sean West could make the club as relievers, if they aren't projected to start at Triple-A New Orleans.

There is flexibility and versatility for manager Ozzie Guillen.

"I think Ozzie has a lot of different options," Beinfest said. "Cishek [sidearm delivery], Mujica with the split [fastball], and Ryan Webb with the heavy sinker. The two lefties [Choate and Dunn] can do their thing. I think there are a lot of different looks right now.

"We know Mujica can pitch late. We know Choate can match up. We know Dunn can pitch late. We think Ryan Webb can move back in the 'pen. Cishek showed no fear, and he can handle things late."

Earlier this month, the Marlins traded their primary long reliever -- Burke Badenhop -- to the Rays. And two other long-relief candidates, Clay Hensley and Brian Sanches, are no longer with the organization.

The Marlins feel they have the depth to pick up the slack. Last year, the 'pen threw 515 1/3 innings, the sixth-highest total in the Majors.

The relievers became more heavily used after ace Josh Johnson went down with right shoulder inflammation in May.

The team is trying to guard against a repeat of '11 by seeking as much starting pitching depth as possible. The Marlins are exploring trade options for Gio Gonzalez, James Shields and Wade Davis. They also are in the mix for free agent Roy Oswalt.

If Miami can bolster the rotation, ideally, it would not have the need for a true long reliever.

"Ideally, we'd like to shorten the game," Beinfest said.

As is, the team feels the bullpen will be a strength.

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.