Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Bullpen Nostalgia

It's better to not get your hopes up. Because if you wanted to, you could really get carried away when talking about the Twins bullpen spots.

It's especially easy when one remembers the good old days. You know, when the Twins mostly sucked. When we were anxiously waiting for the development of Frankie Rodriguez or Shane Bowers into a staff ace. Spring always held such promise in those times. There was always room for that raw promising arm in the bullpen. There might be this year too. The Twins came into camp with two spots open, and Juan Rincon's questionable status may open up a third.

The difference this year is that the Twins are supposed to compete, and their manager is hesitant to trust rookies in that role. Or maybe he just doesn't want to "put that much pressure on a rookie". Or maybe that's just code for "hesitant to trust rookies in that role." The level of your cynicism probably determines the answer. Personally, I'll buy into the "Gardy as Protector" argument for awhile longer, provided it doesn't cost us any more 12th inning leads against the Yankees in the ALDS.

I'll also buy into the theory that the two remaining spots should be filled by a left-handed reliever and a long reliever. A solid (note the qualifier) left-handed reliever is valuable in a division that contains Jim Thome and Travis Hafner. I'm less convinced that we need a second long reliever, but it makes sense to protect those power setup arms during a (hopefully) extended season. Both roles have value for a team with playoff ambitions.

What I don't understand is why they can't be the same person. How many times will Matt Guerrier not be able to handle long relief duties by himself? And how many times will Gardenhire need a left-handed specialist on the very next night when he's got fireballers like Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain and Joe Nathan in the bullpen?

OK, that question is totally speculative, but the correct answer is three times, tops. And for that, I'd rather have another young power arm that can be groomed a bit in low pressure situations, so he can step in when one of the big guys goes down with an injury.

I suspect Willie Eyre fans feel the same way, but they probably shouldn't get their hopes up either. Eyre's seeing some time on the mound, but it's late in games after a couple of other relievers have had their shot. Both Justin Jones (who is left-handed) and Pat Nechek (a right-handed sidearmer who I favor) have recently picked up middle inning duties ahead of Eyre. If the Twins are toying with the idea of bringing someone up from the minors (or debating who might replace Rincon, god forbid), I doubt Eyre is at the top of their list.

And thanks to the World Baseball Classic, we likely won't know who is at the top of their list for another few days. It appears that Mexico (Dennys Reyes) and Venezuela (Silva, Santana and Liriano) will be knocked out in Round 2, so we'll start to get a better feel for the pecking order as they get worked into games.

But for now, I'll let myself get carried away, and daydream of that unknown kid, the one with the power arm and funky delivery, finding his way onto a plane north in a few weeks. Call it nostalgia for the bad old days, but I miss that dream a bit.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Day Off

The Kirby thing should rest for a day. A lot of good was done this week, thought I wish it would have been done a couple of months earlier, when a prodigal son could still have come home. It'll have to do; it should rest. Like I hope he rests. Like I hope his family and close friends rest. Like I hope we all rest.

Thanks for stopping by. We'll see you tomorrow.