Sunday, March 22, 2009

Debating the 25th man

Geez, when was the last time I talked significantly about the Twins in this space? Too freaking long ago, I can tell you that. And that creates its own dilemna, because there are about fifteen things that need to be addressed, and not enough time to do them all justice. So today I'm resorting to a bunch of bullet points. And not even bullet points, since blogspot handles them so poorly. Let's start with:

Patrick Reusse's Roster Story
Yesterday, Strib columnist Patrick Reusse cranked out a story on the Twins roster decisions that completely ruined a similar entry I was going to put out today - and I couldn't be happier. If there were stories like this, a nuts and bolts baseball story that was still entertaining, in the Strib seven years ago, would never have existed.

And the nuts and bolts that Reusse passed along were significant. He predicted that Drew Butera replaces the injured Joe Mauer. He speculated that the bench includes Brian Buscher and Matt Tolbert, but does NOT include Brendan Harris. And he predicted the Twins carry 12 pitchers, making room for Philip Humber and a second lefty, who he predicts will not be Jose Mijares.

There's only one prediction there I think highly questionable, facilitated by a strange trap common for local baseball writers. And that trap is, strangely enough, talking to the manager. One usually sees this gaffe at the end of the season, when reporters publish the manager's predilections as the direction of the organization. Doing so overlooks other factors, like budget, the market, and the fact that it's the general manager who makes those decisions. The manager has input, and often signficant input, but it's the GM's butt on the line.

And while that's not quite as true going into the regular season, it's still true. The GM is still going to have the final decision on who is on that roster, just like the manager is going to have the final say on who is in the lineup. The Twins are very conscious of that division. You'll hear both the GM and manager refer to that clear border throughout the season.

Which is why, barring a trade or (his own) injury, there is no way that Brendan Harris isn't on this roster on Opening Day. Gardy might prefer the slicker fielder, but the Twins aren't going to lose Harris when they can demote Buscher or Tolbert. Nor should they, because there is a message that that baseball gods are trying to drive home to the Twins this spring: depth matters.

Still, let's unpack Gardy's thought process a little. This team only has two players they'll consistently pinch-hit for:

1) Nick Punto (SS) - When Punto is up late in a game, and the team needs a timely hit, Gardenhire will likely be looking at a different strategy facing a left-handed pitcher than a right-handed pitcher. If it's a right-hander, he'll likely bat Buscher (who creamed right-handers last year), and might then burn a middle infielder as a defensive replacement. Tolbert would be the better choice in that situation.

And if they face a left-hander? You could argue that Harris would be the better choice in that case, but Gardenhire will also have the option of using whoever is his fourth outfielder - Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span and Carlos Gomez. Three of those guys are clearly better choices at the plate over Harris, so why not bat one of them and go with the defensive replacement again? Advantage: Tolbert.

2) Drew Butera (C)- If he makes the team, the Twins will likely pinch-hit Redmond for him when the situation presents itself. I suppose versus a tough right-handed pitcher, they could try Buscher and then bring Redmond in as the defensive replacement. That would leave them with the fourth outfielder (Span, Young, Cuddyer or Gomez) and one middle infielder, either Tolbert or Harris. Which brings us back to the Nick Punto options above.

In both of these cases, a change has shifted the balance in Tolbert's favor. That change is Carlos Gomez. More specifically, Carlos Gomez doesn't appear overmatched at the plate this spring. Last year, the fourth outfielder wouldn't have been used to pinch-hit for Nick Punto because the fourth outfielder would have been needed to pinch hit for Gomez. This debate seems to suggest that the Twins aren't convinced they'll need to pinch hit for him as often this year. Which makes Tolbert's glove more valuable than Harris' bat.

But that still doesn't mean Tolbert is going to be on this roster Opening Day. It makes more sense to keep Harris in the fold and stockpile a little depth at Rochester. It also makes sense to see if Gomez's plate approach lasts past March.

What doesn't make sense is spitting out another 750+ words tonight, so let's wrap it up for now. So much for "so much" to cover. We'll get to some other topics tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Was Gomez ever pinch-hit for last year? If so, I can't recall it.

Anonymous said...

anybody else think it is funny that ruesse has a twitter account

BeefMaster said...

A quick scan of Gomez's gamelogs shows 13 times that he started a game but didn't finish. Three of them appear to be injuries of some sort, in which he left in the fifth inning or earlier, so that leaves 10.

The "GS-7/8/9" entries (i.e. "Game started - left in 7th/8th/9th inning") start on July 8. It looks like Gardy figured out that Gomez should be pinch hit for right around the All-Star break, and Gomez was moved to the bottom of the order shortly after that.

John said...

Thanks for the research BeefMaster. It should also be noted that the Twins didn't have a lot of options to pinch hit for Gomez late last year. With Cuddyer hurt, both he and Delmon Young were going to be in the lineup pretty much every day. On those occasions when the Twins tried sitting Gomez on the bench, they needed to resort to Kubel in left field (and that happened several times in late August if I remember correctly).

WI chick said...

This discussion doesn't cover a bigger question: Crede's back.

Harris is the best option to replace Joe Crede in the field, especially with a lefty pitching. And releasing Harris means relying on Tolbert/Buscher/Punto (?) to take over third if Crede's back doesn't hold up. Gardy's got to be thinking about that, too.