Thursday, January 28, 2010

Upcoming Roster Decisions

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.

17 comments:

TT said...

I don' think Tolbert was on the major league roster in 2007. He didn't play in the major leagues and I don't think he was eligible for the rule 5 draft for the first time until after the 2007 season. That would leave him with one more option year.

writerjoel said...

I think Tolbert may have an option year left, too, as does Pridie.

Yes, the Twins need those 7 pitchers, with a long lefty. Right now, they are sitting pretty darn good and unless they do tradeoff Perkins (who also has an option left, I believe)...I would rather approach the end of spring training with too many arms. Something can happen, someone can get hurt or delayed. The Twins alwready have depth (Neshek, who will be optioned out to get his licks at AAAA for awhile) as well as a couple of prospects (Delaney, Slama who need some time in the majors during 2009).

I would love to see the backup infielders be two of these three -- Punto, Harris, Tolbert. Either COULD play the outfield in a pinch. Remember, an AAA replacement is just a phone call and some 1000 miles away.

Thome would pinch-hit for Young, Harris or Punto, pretty much that. Or, better yet, get some playing time at DH, see if he can be that threat. AT the worst, you need to pinch-run for him (as a DH) and thus have the weaker bat at the end of a game or extra innings. Thome can take a walk. He can. And he can hit the sacrifice fly.

I don't think the Twins need the 5th outfielder. But I sure wish they would figure out the 2nd/3rd base situation with a signing.

And if Wsahburn does sign, which he no doubt will, that makes for some interesting decisions, too...Duensing and Perkins down, Liriano in the bullpen (a la Santana when the Twins signed Kenny Rogers).

tt said...

I don't think the Thome signing makes nearly as much sense if the Twins sign another everyday infielder. I think the Twins may be done there. I don't think Washburn is going to be Twin next year either.

It looks like they are handing Pridie a job going into spring training. but there will be a lot of other options available in trade or as waiver pickups when teams set their roster at the end of spring training.

I think the central roster decision is Tolbert and Casilla. More importantly who, among the three lefties, is the fifth starter and seventh bullpen guy with Neshek being the likely competition for the losers of the starting battle. Right now, I suspect the preferred plan is Liriano as starter and Neshek in the bullpen.

Nick N. said...

I don' think Tolbert was on the major league roster in 2007. He didn't play in the major leagues and I don't think he was eligible for the rule 5 draft for the first time until after the 2007 season. That would leave him with one more option year.

You might be right about that. I'd heard he was out of options but hadn't really investigated the matter. Either way, it seems highly unlikely he'll be left off the roster this year.

I've had several people make the point to me that the Twins have a few guys like Punto and Tolbert who could play center in a pinch, but when was the last time the Twins rolled with a bench that did not include an outfielder who could back up center? Is Span never going to get a day off? What if he gets nicked up and needs just a few days off? I don't think it's realistic.

ScottyB said...

With Thome on the roster, there is no such thing as "nicked up and needing a few days off". The Twins won't have that luxury. They will have to place a nicked-up player immediately on the DL and bring up a replacement. With a 4-man bench, and 1 of those being Thome, if 2 players have the flu at the same time (say Harris and Punto), the only way to field a team would be to put Tolbert at 3rd, Cuddyer at 2nd, Kubel in RF and Thome at DH.

ScottyB said...

It might not be a bad idea to look at someone like Alfredo Amezaga for the bench because of his ability to play anything but pitcher or catcher. The Twins need their players to be as versatile as possible.

If the Twins were to re-sign Crede, moving Harris to the bench, it wouldn't surprise me if they did keep Harris and Tolbert, with Tolbert and Punto as your backup centerfielders.

Nick N. said...

With Thome on the roster, there is no such thing as "nicked up and needing a few days off". The Twins won't have that luxury. They will have to place a nicked-up player immediately on the DL and bring up a replacement.

But this is a problem. Span is one of the Twins' best players and a crucial cog for the offense. If he gets dizzy and only needs a couple games off, the Twins can't really afford to lose him for two weeks just because they lack flexibility on the bench.

ScottyB said...

Ah - this is my point exactly! Adding Thome gave the Twins zero flexability, a major problem they will learn to regret.

Nick N. said...

Yeah, a four-man bench (really a three-man bench considering Thome's lack of flexibility) isn't going to fly. I'm thinking more and more that the Twins are going to deal a reliever.

ScottyB said...

Really a 2-man bench + a catcher

TT said...

"With Thome on the roster, there is no such thing as "nicked up and needing a few days off".

I don't see this. If Span needs a day off Pridie is the fourth outfielder. But guys like Cuddyer and Young can be given days off without the drop off on offense by moving Kubel to the outfield. Same with Morneau.


If both catchers get the flu at the same time you have the same problem. Two of three infielders is more likely, but not that much more likely.

Thome actually improves depth in the outfield and at first base. If Cuddyer and Morneau get the flu at the same time, Thome can play first base. But I don't think you build your roster around the unlikely.

"it seems highly unlikely he'll be left off the roster this year."

I don't know why. He spent most of last year at AAA. I see no reason to think he is guaranteed a job if Casilla outplays him. I guess it depends how likely you think that is.

Luke in Mpls. said...

So you do Thome, Backup C, Pridie, Casilla. Everyone can take a day or two off. Tolbert is in the minors. If you add a FA infielder, either Punto or Harris is on the bench, and Casilla is bumped, so you risk losing him since he's out of options. But that doesn't really mean you can't do it, it just means you need to either trade Casilla or pass him through waivers or lose him.

Also, with Thome being old and all, can't you just shift him to the DL at any given time and effectively create another bench spot when needed?

ScottyB said...

The only way Casilla makes this team is if he bats 1.000 in spring training and somehow becomes the starting 2nd baseman. He does not have the versatility to beat out Tolbert. He plays second and short. He has one game (6 total chances) at 3rd base. Tolbert can play 2nd, 3rd and short, as well as the ability to play in the OF. With a short bench, he will be needed, not in the minor leagues.

TT said...

"The only way Casilla makes this team is if he ... somehow becomes the starting 2nd baseman."

I think that is about true, but not entirely.

I don't think the ability to play the outfield will have much of any influence on the Twins choice of utility infielder.

Third base is an issue, but I am not sure ts fair to say Casilla can't play there, he just hasn't.

Do the Twins really need to be three deep at every position? I don't think so. Punto can play third if that was needed. The problem is more whether you want to move him around to give Harris a rest.

I think its important to remember that major league depth is not the only issue. Who do you have ready at Rochester if you jetisson Casilla, Tolbert gets hurt? That depends on spring training performances of guys like Tolleson, Hughes, Plouffe and Valencia. Last fall, none of those guys were deemed ready to help.

socaltwinsfan said...

I read somewhere that Bill Smith was talking at TwinsFest and made it sound like Tolbert and Punto were going to back up CF. So, I wouldn't assume Pridie makes the team. Remember, the Twins had Cuddyer in CF for parts of three games when Span was on the DL and Gomez had an injured hand and couldn't hit. The Twins won two of those three games. I think the value of defense at one position for one or two games has become overrated. Over the long haul, it needs to be addressed, but for a couple games, you just need a guy in there that will make the routine plays.

There seems to be a lot of people assuming that Neshek won't make the Opening Day roster. I don't understand that. Crain had a much worse shoulder injury and surgery and he was on the Opening Day roster after recovery. They are both short relievers, so they don't need to stretched out. I wouldn't assume that he'll make the Opening Day roster, but I wouldn't assume he won't either. If he's back to what he was, or close enough, he'll make the roster. If not, then he won't and I'd be real concerned, because if his stuff isn't good enough by now for the majors, I don't see how pitching in the minors is going to help much.

I think the Twins will deal some pitching. I'm guessing they're waiting to see Neshek in spring training and maybe some of the prospects, to see how close they are. Then maybe they could package Perkins and Crain for an infielder, or something like that.

ScottyB said...

The Twins have a lot of extra relief pitching available for a trade (including Crain and Perkins). Especially with Slama, Delaney and Burnett waiting in the wings. If Neshek doesn't make the team out of ST, it will likely be on the DL to buy the Twins some time to make a deal.

As far as Hughes and Plouffe not being called up in September, it wasn't because they weren't deemed as ready to play in the majors. Gardy wanted to bring both of them up for the bench. They were playing for Team Australia and Team USA, respectively, in the fall World Cup. That's why they weren't around in September.

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