This news didn't really come as a shock to me, if only because I've become conditioned to expect the worst in situations such as this. I've written about Bonser twice in the past week so I don't know how much more I can expound upon the subject of his loss. He's been a better pitcher than his numbers have shown over the past year, and struck me as the only member of the Twins' current group of bullpen arms with good enough stuff to perhaps step into a setup role and develop into a fearsome right-handed force in front of Joe Nathan. The Twins bullpen contains plenty of serviceable relief pitchers, but with Bonser and Pat Neshek out for the year, it lacks righty power arms outside of Nathan. Bonser has fanned 7.3 batters per nine innings over the course of his major-league career (9.49 as a reliever) while Neshek's strikeout rate registers at 10.6 K/9IP. Among the group of Jesse Crain, Luis Ayala, Craig Breslow, Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares and Philip Humber, only Breslow has a career big-league strikeout rate above 6.1, and he's tossed only 75 innings as major-leaguer.
Now, it's not impossible to be an effective reliever with a pedestrian strikeout rate, and it's fairly likely that a couple of the remaining hurlers -- such as Crain and Mijares -- will post relatively decent strikeout totals this year. But losing Bonser and Neshek hurts because it takes away the two right-handers who could really be relied upon to come in and throw the ball past tough hitters. Unless Robert Delaney can rise fast or Humber can pull everything together and blossom into the dominant reliever I theorized he might be capable of becoming when the Twins first acquired him, it seems the Twins only shot at finding a dominating right-handed eighth-inning guy for this season would be a move to bring in Juan Cruz. Such an acquisition remains unlikely, but the pressure is building on the Twins; this is going to be a long season if the bullpen continues to be as unreliable as it was late last year.
As a final note, I'll comment on some of the fan frustration being directed toward the Twins' team doctors for their handling of Bonser's situation. It seems clear that Bonser has been having issues with his shoulder for some time now and on the surface this certainly appears to be a situation that could have been addressed much sooner. Yet, the same could have been said about Neshek's situation last year, and this was my take when the team announced he'd need Tommy John surgery in November:
There were plenty out there who vocally opined that the team should bite the bullet and have Neshek go through surgery immediately; indeed, had this been their course of action the reliever probably would have been able to return sometime around June or July of next year rather than sitting out the entire campaign.My reaction to Bonser's situation is basically the same. While this injury may have been discovered earlier had different steps been taken months ago, surgery quite frankly sucks and should always be a last resort. If MRI exams revealed nothing serious and expert doctors truly believed there was a good chance the problem was a bad case of tendonitis that could be healed with rest, then there's really no reason not to at least try that course of action.
The finger-pointing, though, is ultimately pointless. There's little doubt that both the player and the team strongly preferred to avoid surgery if at all possible, and as Joe Christensen made sure to note in his blog post on the news, when Neshek first suffered the injury "he received a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews, who agreed with the Twins recommendation to rehab the injury, instead of having surgery."
Unfortunately, that didn't work out, and the prognosis for Bonser is rough. Not only does this serious injury almost certainly cost him the 2009 season, it puts his entire career in jeopardy and puts his future with the Twins very much in question. I'm dearly hoping that Bonser can ultimately make a full recovery, but in the meantime concerns will revolve around the Twins' ability to find a right-handed pitcher who can be counted on late in games, because they've just lost one of their top candidates to do so.