GLENDALE, Ariz. -- We are past the halfway point of camp for pitchers and catchers, so let's take stock of where things stand in the Dodgers bullpen.
The one glaring omission on the opening day roster will be closer Kenley Jansen, who will open the season on the disabled list after surgery to repair a bone growth on his left foot.
That opens up one more spot in what is really a wide open bullpen competition. When asked Monday morning how many bullpen spots are up for grabs this spring, manager Don Mattingly jokingly answered, "Seven," though he wasn't that far off.
"Obviously we have guys we know are pretty much accounted for, but there is definitely a competition for a lot of spots. We have a lot of guys throwing the ball well," Mattingly said. "There will be difficult decisions to make."
Here is my current snapshot of the Dodgers bullpen as it relates to the opening day roster, with the usual caveat and reminder that the active roster is very fluid and changes often throughout the year. The Dodgers had 12 pitchers on its opening day roster last year and ended up using 24 pitchers on the season, without counting Drew Butera.
Joel Peralta, J.P. Howell
Both are veterans, both have been productive the last few years either peripherally or otherwise, and both are under contract for 2015 - Howell for $4 million and Peralta for $2.5 million. Both have also battled health problems this spring - Peralta with his shoulder and Howell with his groin - but both are healthy now and on track to pitch the important innings they were acquired to pitch.
Out of options
Chris Hatcher, Juan Nicasio
Because they can't be sent down to the minors without first being designated for assignment and subjected to waivers, these two are near locks, but with three weeks before opening day I hesitate to anoint either one just yet. Hatcher is closer to a lock, and while the Dodgers like Nicasio's stuff in relief his spring has been up and down to date.
Nicasio avoided arbitration with a one-year, $2.3 million contract, but that won't anchor him to the pen. As a non-guaranteed contract, the Dodgers can release him if they so choose in the final days of spring for 45 days termination pay, or roughly $565,574.
Brandon League, Dustin McGowan
League would be a lock if he were healthy, but his shoulder injury puts his opening day availability in doubt. McGowan gets an edge because he signed a major league contract and currently occupies a 40-man roster spot, but it's only for the league minimum of $507,500 and isn't guaranteed, meaning they could easily jettison McGowan if they had to. The presence of a $1 million roster bonus for making the team suggests there was at least some doubt at the time of his signing.
Sergio Santos, David Aardsma, Mike Adams, David Huff, Chad Gaudin
Santos has looked the best of this crew, finally healthy and looking like he did when he was closing games for the White Sox.
Gaudin is unique in that he could either be starting depth in Triple-A or serve as a swing man in the Dodgers' pen. Adams when healthy might be the second-best relief pitcher the Dodgers have, behind Jansen, but hasn't yet proven healthy after dealing with shoulder injuries during his two years in Philadelphia. Adams has only pitched in one game so it's hard to handicap just yet, but I'd chalk him up as someone who might start in the minors before ultimately making an impact on the big club later in the season.
Mattingly mentioned the other two on Monday morning.
"[Aardsma is] throwing the ball well. For us we're not necessarily concerned about the velocity, but more with how he uses his pitches," Mattingly said. "We don't feel like you need to throw 96 or 97 to get people out, but you do have to use your pitches in combination and get the ball to where you want to to get outs, and he has been good this spring."
"[Huff] has been impressive. He's been able to get both sides out. You don't want to be stuck with guys who gets only one side out," Mattingly said. "He gives you a guy who could pitch multiple innings, even a spot start in there. He just seems to be able to do a lot of things. We feel like he's throwing the ball really well. On the mound he seems to always be in control."
Have options, will travel
Pedro Baez, Paco Rodriguez, Yimi Garcia, Daniel Coulombe, Adam Liberatore
These are the pitchers who could make a difference but because they can most easily be shuttled back and forth to the minors face an uphill batter compared to most. Rodriguez has the most accomplished major league experience of the group and is looking like his old self.
"Paco has been fine. The one thing we saw at the end of '13 was that he lost sharpness to some of his pitches," Mattingly said Sunday. "But we're seeing that kind of come back."
Baez impressed in his major league time last season and they like his stuff. All five of these will likely contribute at some point this year. Carlos Frias would have made this list as well but he was optioned to minor league camp earlier Monday.
Depending on your point of view, the Dodgers essentially have 14 pitchers fighting for five bullpen spots, or perhaps it is 12 pitchers fighting for three spots. At the very least, there will be some very talented pitchers in Triple-A Oklahoma City.
"The best way to have success [in the bullpen] is to have as many options as you can," said Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman earlier in camp.
The only bloated contract of the bunch is League at $7.5 million, but he pitched well enough last year to earn a spot on merit, assuming he's healthy. The point is that there is nobody stashed in the bullpen because they have to be.
Howell was with Friedman with the Rays for seven seasons, and summed up his new boss's process.
"There are no scholarships. If you're under contract, no one cares. You have to play well. That to me is my favorite environment. That's the reason I got to be here, because I got to play in that," Howell said. "You have to be on top of your game and have to be professional. If you struggle you're going to get chances, but the best man wins the job. There is no 'contract wins the job' anymore, and that's an amazing feeling. That's how you win championships."
A lot can change in three weeks, but here is my guess on March 16 of the opening seven in the Dodgers bullpen: Howell, Peralta, Hatcher, Santos, Nicasio, Rodriguez, McGowan.