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.