Sunday, June 01, 2008

Roster Tomfoolery

Life interfered with my baseball habit this weekend, so I didn't see much of Sunday's game, which means I don't have much in the way of insights. (I know, I know. I can picture the quizzical look on your face right now. "Insights? You've been providing insights?")

But the truth is, I'm not sure it would've mattered. Because three hours before the game started, Ron Gardenhire hinted during his radio show that when pitcher Scott Baker is activated (presumably for Thursday's start) the pitcher who will be sent down will be....third baseman Matt "Mother" Macri?

Mmmm. I become absolutely intoxicated whenever there's a wiff of roster tomfoolery in the air.

For those of you keeping track, sending Macri down would mean carrying thirteen pitchers on the 25-man roster. In the American League, most teams carry eleven pitchers. Some get by with ten. A few desperate ones carry twelve. The lucky thirteen happens about once a year by someone. And this year, that lucky team is our hometown nine.

The reason that we suddenly need eight pitchers in the bullpen isn't because the bullpen stinks. It's because the bullpen is slightly below average, and in particular because the wrong guys in the bullpen are slightly below average. And by "wrong" I mean "veterans who the Twins risk losing to waivers if they take them off of the major league roster".

It appears (and I'll admit I don't have the full story) that the top five names to be sent down to AAA would all need to pass through waivers. Those names are (in no particular order): Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain, Brian Bass, newly found lefty Craig Breslow and new bullpen member Boof Bonser. Unfortunately for Macri, his is the sixth name, and he doesn't have that limitation.

This story might be a lot more fun to write if I could build up some righteous indignation about this move. After all, it's really a result of the Twins failing to make decisions on some players they've become accusomed to. And this likely just means they're delaying those decisions a bit longer, though they appear inevitable.

But the truth is that I don't really have a problem with it. It will probably be a bit silly trying to find work for eight relievers, but that's the point of the move. The guy they trust the least right now looks to be Juan Rincon, and they're trying like hell to protect him. And what better way to protect a guy than to have seven relievers available in front of him?

We can argue if that is really worth their time an effort, but then we're swimming even further into the deep end. Rincon has declined, but he's not terrible. We don't know the full story. Maybe those elbow rumors true, and they think he needs some time to recover? Or less work? Or are they working on fixing something in his delivery? There are plenty of valid reasons to want to buy him some time, beyond his thirteen-year history with the organization.

And the negative effects seem to be miminal. There will be only one backup infielder for all four spots, and that person will usually be Brendan Harris. Harris is a good bench bat, and is an especially nice option because he can even pinch hit for Lamb against lefties. Plus, he is limited, but not embarassing, at three of the infield spots. And there's plenty of other flexibility. Casilla can backup at short, Punto can backup at second and third, and Lamb can backup at first. So can Michael Cuddyer.

(And I'll admit, I'm secretly hoping that the Twins work themselves into some situation where Michael Cuddyer ends up playing third base again for a few frames. I know Cuddy has his share of issues right now, but I can't believe there is ten times as much chatter about Joe Mauer playing third base as there is about Cuddyer moving back there. Mauer has never played a single game there. Cuddyer played there for most of the 2005 season. And he wasn't moved because he couldn't field. He was moved because it supposedly helped his hitting.)

Assuming people stay relatively healthy (Yes, Mr. Punto, I'm looking at you.) the biggest downside is that this limits Gardenhire to only being able to use one pinch-hitting move late most games. Because if Craig Monroe pinch hits for someone like Nick Punto, then Harris will need to replace him. Given some of Monroe's late game heroics, and the fact that the Twins would probably like to pinch hit for Casilla on occasion too, that's not a trivial option to surrender.

But this biggest question about this team right now, at least in my mind, is sorting out the bullpen. This move buys a little more time for that group to decide which ones will be good and which ones will be gone. And after this move stretches his roster to its limit, "gone" will be the only other option Gardenhire will have.


ubelmann said...

I guess I don't see the point of keeping Rincon around. (Though it's not like Gardy is actually using Macri, either.) He's been declining for years now (and he's been declining though years that should have been his best.) It's not just that his results have been getting worse, his peripherals have been getting worse in abad way, and his velocity just isn't there, either. I remember as well as anyone when Rincon was practically the best set-up man in the league, but those days are long gone and they aren't coming back.

If we lose Rincon, we would even potentially benefit by not having to pay his salary for the rest of the season. And if we wind up needing an extra bullpen arm later in the season, there will be replacement level arms kicking around in the minors or in free agency. (Rumor has it that the Yankees are looking to release LaTroy Hawkins soon, for instance, and Hawkins is arguably better than Rincon right now.)

My preference would be for the Twins to have someone useful in that 25th roster spot, but if the choice comes down to Rincon or Macri, it's not really a big deal either way.

So I guess that's my long-winded way of saying that I essentially agree with you--there's no reason for righteous indignation over this decision either way. I might be a bit peeved if we lose Bass instead of DFA'ing Rincon, but Bass isn't all that much over replacement level--he's just cheaper than Rincon. Like a lot of decisions the GM has to make, it's not really a big deal.

Anonymous said...

they may have said that moving cuddyer from 3rd was to help his hitting, but really it was because he is a terrible infielder.

SoCalTwinsfan said...

The Twins' bullpen is actually better than average in ERA at 3.65. They are a little below average in WHIP. Of course the Twins are used to being well above average with their bullpen.

Curveball said...

Okay, we lose Rincon. No one will claim him off waivers, so the Twins would be forced to release him and eat all his salary except the $250,000 or so some team will pay him as a free agent.

Bass could sneak through, possibly.

Boof, might turn-it-around and be a star.

Crain, too soon to give up on as he is still relatively cheap.

The better way to look at potential pitcher losses is who the Twins have as repalcements. They signed Breslow, which means they have no desire to promote Gomez or Barret or Cali from Rochester. Or even Jason Miller, toiling at New Britain. Any of these guys will be around next year when the Twins lose Reyes?

Korecky has proven that he can possibly pitch at the major league level. The Twins also have Julio DePaula, who pitched last year.

There's an influx of starters. We have Boof overloading the current staff. Liriano is in the wings and will come back once a decision is amde to keep Hernandez (assuming Baker/Blackburn/Perkins/Slowey any of the three pitch into the 6-7th regularly). Duensing is still considered a prospect to come north this season. Humber is probably a "Bass" repalcement if need be. Mulvey is in the wings as a starter.

So things look pretty good. We could lose Rincon (replace with Korecky/DePaula). We could lose Bass (repalce with Humber as the 11th/12th pitcher for 2008). We will lose Reyes (replaced by Gomez/Barrett). The Twins will have to make a decision regarding Boof and/or Baker when they reach arbitation status -- how much are these guys really worth with the young arms in the lower rungs of the system.

So...I say let Bass, Rincon or even Boof walk. I would ratehr see someone grab Rincon and pay him more than major elague minimum, but doubt it will happen. I do doubt that Bass would be claimed. Boof would be grabbed, sadly, and I team will either be taken-for-a-ride or reap tremendous benefits in the future.

Nick N. said...

I'd be OK with losing Rincon. If the Twins need right-handed bullpen help later in the season, Korecky and Lahey are waiting in Rochester and should be about equally good, if not better. I like the idea of keeping Macri around if only because he protects Lamb from left-handed starters, although I suppose Harris can fill that same role.

Andrew said...

I like what the Twins are doing regarding Rincon. They haven't completely given up on him, even if they wish to bury him deep in the bullpen. I may be in the minority here, but I think Rincon can still be a serviceable pitcher for the Twins, as long as he can adjust his pitching style to compensate for his lack of velocity.

He'll never dominate again, but if he learns how to hit corners and set up his sequence of pitches in order to keep hitters off balance, he can be successful. Perhaps that's what Gardenhire and Anderson are trying to do with Rincon now. Plus, I do think Rincon has some trade value left, if he can turn improve his performance slightly. Good set-up men are very valuable and extremely hard to find. It may be a stretch to think Rincon can become a good set-up guy again, but there's still talent in his arm.

TT said...

1) There are not a bunch of "replacement level" pitchers available. If there were, there wouldn't be so many teams looking for bullpen help.

2) There is a reason Lahey cleared waivers before the Twins got him back. He got off to a very hot start at AAA, but projecting him to replace Rincon is a huge stretch. He has given up 6 hits, 1 walk and gone 1.2 innings in his last two appearances.

Korecky did fine in his brief stint at the major league level. But its not at all clear that he would sustain that as hitters adjusted.

Rumor has it that the Yankees are looking to release LaTroy Hawkins

Is there any distinction between rumors and baseless speculation by impatient fans. Its possible the Yankees will decide after Hawkins last couple games that he is done. But if his last couple games are really an indication of his pitching ability, then there is no plausible argument that he is as good as Rincon.

USAFChief said...

"In the AL, most teams carry eleven pitchers. Some get by with ten. A few desperate ones carry twelve."

That's not even close to correct.

I don't remember the last time any AL team carried ten pitchers, and even 11 is fairly rare these days.

Currently (as of 3 June), the only AL team carrying an 11 man staff is the Angels. Everyone else is at 12, except Baltimore and the Yankees, both of whom have 13 man staffs.

Anonymous said...

"There are not a bunch of "replacement level" pitchers available. If there were, there wouldn't be so many teams looking for bullpen help."

Is not the definition of replacement level the type/quality of player readily available to all teams? And under that definition, how could there not be?

Replacement level does not necessarily equate to suitable replacement. Too many replacement level players will most certainly kill your bullpen's effectiveness.

I think replacement level is a good fit for mop up relievers, who enter games when run prevention has ceased to be the team's first priority. Nice and cheap.

Lots of clubs are looking for much better than replacement level help in their pens.

-5 internets.

TT said...

Is not the definition of replacement level the type/quality of player readily available to all teams?

I suppose, but then a "replacement level" pitcher is any pitcher available isn't it? It makes it pretty much a meaningless statement. If you take a look at some of the pitcher who have appeared in the major leagues this year, Rincon is far from the bottom of the barrel.