Manuel offered the stories of Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo, key relievers from last season, who "came out of nowhere" and "were like icing on the cake." He also mentioned how important it is for those two to continue progressing this season to prove that their reliability in 2011 was more than beginner's luck.
"That's what's going to [be proven] this year," Manuel said. "They got to come and pitch like that if our bullpen's going to be strong."
Papelbon is the newcomer at the back of the bullpen. Bastardo, Stutes and David Herndon are holdovers from last season, while Kyle Kendrick is a swing-pitcher between the starting rotation and a long-reliever spot. Manuel said the Phillies need to get veteran Jose Contreras healthy, and once that happens, he'll take a spot. The Phillies inked former All-Star starter Dontrelle Willis to become a lefthanded reliever. But after those names, there is much uncertainty.
"We're going to have six starters, probably one of those guys will be our long guy, spot-starter," Manuel said. "But there's going to be some openings. If we carry 12 pitchers, there's going to be three or four openings in our 'pen."
Manuel just returned from a minicamp in Clearwater, Fla., where he watched Willis, the two-time All-Star and 2003 National League Rookie of the Year. At one point, Willis was among the finest young pitchers in baseball, finishing No. 2 in the NL Cy Young voting as a 23-year-old in 2005. Willis experienced a dramatic regression, but the Phillies are hoping the 30-year-old can reinvent himself as a situational lefty.
"If he can pitch in a situation where he's our first lefty out of the 'pen, in a situation early in the game, if he can pitch like that, he might even work his way into being in the back or work his way into being a starter," Manuel said.
"The command is the big thing for him. When he used to be in his heyday, he was just wild enough to be good. He's still working on having real good command. His delivery and how he's approaching how to pitch lefthanders, he should definitely be a usable big-league pitcher."
Among the young players on the 40-man roster who will vie for bullpen spots are Justin De Fratus, Michael Schwimer, Phillippe Aumont, Joe Savery and newly acquired Jeremy Horst. Of the non-roster invitees, Joel Pineiro, Scott Elarton and Dave Bush all have significant major league experience.
There's also the possibility that the Phillies could add another pitcher before spring training begins. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he's had contact with former closer Brad Lidge and will maintain communication, but, "It's probably likely at this stage of the game that we'll go with the guys that we have." If the Phillies eventually add a reliever, Amaro does not anticipate it will be a player they need to add to the 40-man roster, which currently has two spots open.
"Right now, we're focusing on that low-hanging fruit, guys who haven't signed yet, some guys who have some experience," Amaro said. "We're likely, probably not going to do a major-league deal, but it's possible under the right circumstance. We do have some space on the roster. As far as our payroll's concerned, we're up against it, very close to being maxed out right now. We'll see how it goes when we get closer to spring."