We saw the bullpen both present and future in action last night, securing the win after Bruce Chen labored through five innings.   They did so using Gil Meche, Blake Wood, Robinson Tejeda and, of course, Joakim Soria each for an inning.   Combined, the four allowed two hits and no runs over four innings, striking out five along the way.

The above is not meant to bag on Bruce Chen.   He is what he is and as long as the Royals can figure out a way to make Bruce their number five starter next year instead of their number two, he can allow three runs over five innings 32 times next season without complaint from me.

Last night’s performance was simply outstanding and likely a preview of what we can expect to see out of the pen in 2011.  

Soria and Tejeda were locks to be on the roster, but the reincarnation of Gil Meche as a reliever and the rebound of Blake Wood pretty much solidify the core of the Royals bullpen for 2011.  

In Wood, the Royals have a 24 year old hard thrower who spent the first month of his major league career basically being lucky (allowing no runs, but striking out no one), then pretty much got the crap hit out of him most of the summer.  

Somewhat curiously, the Royals were tweaking Wood’s delivery at the major league level, but the results seem to have paid off.  After taking a ten day break near the end of August, Wood has come back to strike out 8 batters in his last six appearances spanning just 5.1 innings.   Now, that is a very small sample, but considering Wood struck out just 16 hitters in his first 38 innings, it is still a big enough jump to get me interested.

If the choice is banking on a 24 year old Wood in the sixth and seventh inning next season or spending the precious few resources the Royals have this off-season on a ‘veteran’ middle reliever, the choice is obvious to me.

In the case of Gil Meche, you can view him however you want, but the truth is he is going to make $12 million next year no matter what.   He could have gone the route of surgery and never pitched for the Royals again and still cost the Royals exactly the same amount of money.   Let’s all get over the ‘$12 million set-up guy quips’ and focus on what is salvageable on the back half of this contract.

In five relief appearances, Meche has allowed five hits over six innings.   Along the way, he has been tagged for just one run, allowed just one walk and struck out five batters.  

Certainly, Meche will have to handled gingerly throughout 2011.   Probably the Royals will not use him on back to back days, nor rush him to warm-up to enter in the middle of an inning.   Assuming that Wood can continue to strike hitters out as he has over the past couple of weeks, it really should not be a problem to accommodate Meche’s ‘fragile’ status.

While this column is making two rather large assumptions (Meche staying healthy and Wood maintaining his new strikeout rate), it certainly looks like the Royals might have the makings of a pretty good bullpen for 2011.     Of course, you would be wise to point out that a good bullpen on what is likely to be sub-.500 team is a luxury item.  

However, the beauty of that foursome is that Joakim Soria is almost silly affordable through 2014.      Blake Wood is under team control all the way through 2015, while Robinson Tejeda won’t be a free agent until 2013.   Plus, after his contract expires next season, Gil Meche is not going to cost $12 million.    Even if Meche is dominant out of the pen and healthy all season, he likely will not command anything more than three or four million per year on the open market.

Again, a couple of big ‘ifs’ in this equation, but the Royals could conceivably have an effective and stable foursome in the back of their bullpen not just next season, but for the next two years after that (if not more).    Perhaps it is building a team backwards to have a good bullpen before the rest of the squad is ready to compete, but when one falls in one’s lap, you might as well capitalize on it.

In my mind, the only mistake Dayton Moore could make this off-season with regard to his relief corps would be to spend one ounce of energy or one penny on adding anyone from outside the organization to this unit.