Prior to Tuesday's Jim Thome signing, this might have been a good guess at how the Twins' 25-man roster will break down coming out of spring training this year: five starters, seven relievers, nine starting position players, four bench players. That's how Ron Gardenhire rolled out of spring training last year, and considering his professed affinity for a deep bullpen, it's how we imagine he'd have liked to roll again this year.
Yet, the addition of Thome changes the game a bit. For as much as I like the move, there's no denying that Thome offers extremely limited flexibility as a bench player. He truly can't play in the field (he's started a total of four games at first base over the past four years) and he's one of the slowest runners in baseball. Thome's utility will purely be as a hitter, which means that Gardenhire is going to have to strategize around him at times, using replacement fielders and pinch runners at a high rate.
This might force the Twins to go with a five-man bench and a six-man bullpen. That'd be less than ideal, since it would leave the Twins without much in the way of a mop-up man or long reliever. Of the six guys who can be considered locks for bullpen spots, only Clay Condrey could be viewed as a candidate for that role, and he's pretty borderline given his history.
Originally, the plan for the Twins was seemingly to place the one of the odd men out of the race for the fifth spot in the rotation -- which appears to be shaping up between Brian Duensing, Francisco Liriano and Glen Perkins -- in that last bullpen spot as a guy who could come in and throw several innings should a starter's day end early. This takes away that option. If they want to have that starter-built pitcher in the bullpen to soak up innings, either the Twins will deal one of their current short-outing relievers (which still strikes me as a fairly strong possibility) or they will go with a four-man bench.
Let's explore that latter option. A four-man bench would almost certainly consist of Thome, a back-up infielder, a back-up outfielder and a back-up catcher. Presuming that Brendan Harris is the starter at third base, this leaves the infield spot up for grabs between Matt Tolbert and Alexi Casilla, both of whom are out of options. There's no clear candidate for the fourth outfielder spot, but since it would have to be someone who can man center, Jason Pridie stands out as the only suitable internal candidate at this point. Meanwhile, the second catcher job would go to either Drew Butera or Jose Morales -- likely Butera at the start of the season due to Morales' recent surgery.
As you can see here, some decisions will have to be made in the near future to whittle the roster down to 25. With both Casilla and Tolbert out of options, one of those guys is almost certainly going to have to go should the Twins opt for a seven-man bullpen. If the Twins sign another player to start at second or third, the roster crunch becomes all the more tricky, which is another reason I doubt we'll see another signing to shore up the infield. If the Twins decide to go forward with a six-man bullpen, I have to imagine we'd be seeing some sort of move to change the reliever alignment, because I can't see anyone of the Nathan/Guerrier/Rauch/Mijares/Crain group being stretched out to pitch long outings and it would be very uncharacteristic of the Twins to carry only one pitcher who can serve in long relief (not to mention only one lefty reliever). This is the main reason I didn't expect Crain to be tendered a contract -- he's a one-inning righty set-up guy, but not quite as reliable as Guerrier or Rauch (or a healthy Neshek for that matter). I think Crain is a nice pitcher and I'm optimistic about his chances for this year, but he'll be occupying a valuable roster spot and sucking up $2 million of payroll.
So, might Crain or another reliever be moved? Will the Twins seek to trade Casilla or Tolbert so one of them isn't lost for nothing this spring? And what about Perkins? Is the team still looking to deal him, as they reported were earlier this offseason?
These are questions to keep in mind as we move forward with only three weeks left before pitchers and catchers report.