Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Options Could Limit Twins Options

Don't believe the hype. There might be 66 guys in Twins spring training, but they aren't really competing for roster spots. In fact, there may not be a single roster spot to compete for.

How come? Because of "options." Options are a MLB administrative rule that limits how long a team can keep a player on their 40-man roster but keep them in the minors. Basically, they have three years before they need to commit to bringing that player to the majors. For a little more on it, check out this entry, where I compared it to the amount of time before you move from dating to married.

If a player doesn't have "options" left, they cannot be sent to the minors without being offered to every other major league team. So a team risks losing that player, and that isn't a risk the Twins are usually anxious to take. Thus, a player without options almost always has the inside track to make it to Opening Day. And when you look over the 25 spots the Twins have available, player without options look like they're going to gobble up most of the open spots. Let's run through them.

The Twins entered spring training with their lineup and rotation pretty set, which (barring any injuries) takes care of 14 of the 25 spots on the roster
C - Joe Mauer
1B - Justin Morneau
2B - Alexi Casilla
SS - Jamey Carroll
3B - Danny Valencia
DH - Ryan Doumit
RF - Josh Willingham
CF - Denard Span
LF - Ben Revere
Rotation - Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn & Jason Marquis

That leaves 11 spots, which probably includes four guys off the bench and seven guys in the bullpen. Here are heavy favorites for each of them:
  • Drew Butera is likely the backup catcher unless the Twins are really enamored with newly acquired JR Towles.
  • Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes are both out of options, so they're almost locks to be on the bench.
  • The fourth spot might be the only open spot, but the obvious option is Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who the Twins will be paying $3M whether he plays in the majors or minors.
And there are similar roster crunches in the bullpen. Four of the seven spots will likely go to Matt Capps, Glen Perkins, Joel Zumaya and Brian Duensing, all of whom are slotted for late-inning roles. And the other three spots? It turns out there are three relievers without options:
  • Anthony Swarzak is out of options, is right-handed and did a nice job in the swingman role last year. It seems obvious that he would make it.
  • Jeff Gray is a right-handed reliever who has pitched for several team the last couple of years. The Twins picked him up this offseason off of waivers because he was out of options. The Twins want at least one more right-hander in the bullpen, so he looks like a front-runner.
  • Finally, Matt Maloney is a left-hander that the Twins also picked up this offseason because he was also out of options. He has mostly worked as a starter, but so did Perkins before the Twins moved him to the bullpen. And a third left-handed reliever might make sense given that Perkins won't be used situationally.
Suddenly there are 0 spots left and another 41 guys in camp.


PK said...

The roster looks even more crowded if the Twins intend to keep Rule 5 pick, Terry Doyle. He may be more likely to stick than Gray.

thrylos98 said...

In addition to the out of options situation, you have Terry Doyle who if does not make the team has to be returned to the White Sox. I bet he makes the team before Gray or Maloney, based on talent alone

Anonymous said...

Injuries can/will impact this. I could see a guy like Hughes starting on the DL and get a rehab assignment before the Twins have to make a decision on him. Options usually aren't a huge problem and within a few weeks sort themselves out.

Jim H said...

The option argument for keeping Gray and Maloney is pretty weak. The Twins will likely only keep these two if they are better than the competition this spring. They aren't going to worry about losing them through the waiver process because there is no upside to these guys. They are either better than their competition or they are not. There is certainly enough guys around to fill out the AAA roster and if they are waived because of a poor spring, nobody else will want them anyway.

The option argument probably doesn't fit Hughes that well either, if there is a better fit to the 25 man roster this spring, they could well "risk" losing Hughes.

I think the Twins will want to keep Plouffe but since they don't think he is a middle infielder any more, he will have to prove he can play the outfield. There are a lot of outfielders with decent upsides getting close to majors, so Plouffe's window of opportunity is small. If he can't hit like an outfielder or field like one, he might not survive the year as a Twin.

Josh said...

The fact that the Twins insist on building a roster with 12 pitchers is ABSURD. Especially considering how many position players we have that A) could use days off in an effort to keep them healthy, and B) have batting skills that limit them in certain situations and could benefit by having better/more PH options on the bench.

Assuming the Twins starters perform better than last season (which is a bet this team is clearly counting on to have any chance at success) several of those 7 bullpen choices will be lucky to make one appearance in a week, especially with Gardenhire's tendencies towards finding a couple of relievers he likes/trusts and riding them.

That's a waste of a roster spot. Especially since the mostly useless Drew Butera will be sitting on the bench most days and has NO value then except as a defensive replacement at catcher to either rest Mauer's legs or give the pitchers better defense than Doumit is capable of. Which is not giving the team a whole heck of a lot.

I'd much rather have Tosoni or Mastroianni as a viable bench bat than a 7th bullpen guy who won't play.

writerjoel said...

Doyle adds the additional complication, although I doubt that Gray and Mahoney are sure fire ins. Both are there if the Twins needed more 40-man roster space. The interesting tidbit will be the need for a third catcher. Sadly, if Drew Butera went thru waivers, I'm sure someone would claim him as a backup (Corky Miller, Eli Whiteside are just a couple of no-hitters that continue to find work). The Twins could also hope that Hughes is delayed and starts the season on the DL, thus being able to be waived out once the season begins and msot teams have rosters set. Plus, there is always the possibility of picking up a guy that some otehr team cuts or finds expendable. That Japanese infielder is also full of complications. Send him to Rochester and have him play everyday, or use him as a bench guy. I think I would send him out...but then who ARE the bench guys if you assume Plouffe is the
4th outfielder.

TT said...

When I look at the roster, I don't see a lot of opportunities for bench guys. That could change if Mauer, Morneau or Span aren't healthy. But the only guy in the lineup you might pinch hit for on a regular basis is Revere. And that's assuming he doesn't hit well.

I also agree with the comments that Gray and Maloney are not locks at all. They will need to win spots. Neither is Zumya if he doesn't have good velocity.

Does Valencia have options left? If he does, he could lose his spot if his defense does not improve. I don't think they are going to release Hughes, but they might trade him. I just don't see anyone in camp who is likely to take his place. Nishioka, on the other hand, has options and could easily lose his spot to one of the minor league guys.

Jim H said...

Actually, I suspect nobody on the fringes of the 25 man roster is entirely safe. They could just go with one backup catcher, Doumit. They could get by with 11 pitchers, especially early in the year with the a lot of open dates. While I think Valencia is largely safe, I doubt if Hughes is, there are several ways and many potential reasons for a backup who can play first or 3rd better than Hughes can.

I think the comment about Zumaya is right, he has to prove his velocity is there.