With today’s roster moves, we’re beginning to see some clear winners (and losers) in the battles for the final roster spots remaining open before the Twins break camp and head north… or are we?
To review, here’s what we’ve known pretty much since the beginning of Spring Training:
Position Players: Mauer, Morneau, Hudson, Hardy, Punto, Harris, Young, Span, Cuddyer, Kubel and Thome.
Starting Pitchers: Baker, Blackburn, Slowey and Pavano
Bullpen: Rauch, Guerrier, Crain, Mijares and Condrey (yes, I know it’s hard to say he earned a spot based on Spring Training performance, but he was seen as a virtual lock going in and I’d imagine he probably still has his spot as long reliever).
That’s 11 of the 13 Position-player spots that were never up for grabs, 4 of the 5 rotation spots locked up and 5 of 7 bullpen spots taken.
With today’s announcement that Jacque Jones won’t be making the roster and re-assignments/options sending Matt Tolbert, Ben Revere and Matt Maroth to AAA, it’s becoming clear who some of the winners and losers in the battle for the five open rosters spots are going to be… and what a coincidence that it’s looking pretty much like what most people thought it would be before camp opened. (Obviously, Joe Nathan’s season ending TJ surgery opened up one extra bullpen spot.)
So what do we know and what’s still up in the air?
We know Alexi Casilla has “won” the lone remaining non-backup-catcher-position-player spot. It’s reallllllly hard to say he “won” that position, though, given he hasn’t had a very impressive spring. Lexi is getting the spot because (a) he’s out of options, and (b) Matt Tolbert didn’t impress anyone enough to prove he should get the spot instead. Based solely on performance, this spot should be Jacque Jones’, however. But then we all know these decisions aren’t based solely on performance.
We DON’T yet know whether Drew Butera or Wilson Ramos will break camp as the backup catcher (and literally the holder of the 25th roster spot). It’s not a terribly important decision, in my opinion, because whoever gets the job is only going to be holding it warm until Jose Morales is healthy.
The 5th rotation spot was billed as a battle between Francisco Liriano, Brian Duensing and Glen Perkins. Perkins has been eliminated by losing innings due to, well, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say it’s an injury. It sure looked like Francisco Liriano was the clear front runner for the final rotation spot, but over the last week a couple of things have happened that have cast some level of doubt on that. First, Joe Nathan was lost for the year and Liriano keeps getting mentioned as a possible replacement as the Twins’ closer. Second, frankly, Duensing has arguably out-pitched Liriano over their last couple of appearances.
In the bullpen, while I’ve heard possible reasons why Pat Neshek may be sent to AAA to start the season, they all sound like excuses to me. It’s almost like someone in the organization simply doesn’t want him with the Twins. He’s performed as well as, if not better than, almost every other relief pitcher this spring. If they really don’t want him, put him on the market and get something for him! But let’s stop with the “he’s not ready yet” crappola, already.
The final pitching spot then is going to come down to Duensing and Anthony Slama. Both guys need regular work so I don’t think you want either guy to sit around waiting for mop-up opportunities (that has to be what Condrey is there for, right?). If the Twins feel they need someone who can throw a few innings when a starting pitcher gets beat up early in a game (or perhaps feel they need another lefty), the gig goes to Duensing. He’s proven he is capable of getting Major League hitters out.
But if they decide they need another one-inning shut down arm out of the pen, Slama could get the call, while Duensing gets regular starts in Rochester. I consider this a bit of a long shot, though, given the guys who already have claimed spots in the bullpen. Condrey is arguably the only relief pitcher you’d feel you could use for more than an inning (or two at the most). Based on that, alone, I believe Duensing is staying (yes, I know Perkins could get that spot, but I’ll believe that when I see it). I suppose what this means is Slama is actually battling Neshek for that last short relief spot in the pen.
So, here’s my take…
UPDATE: So, it seems that while I was in the drafting process, LaVelle E Neal at the Strib posted an update to his blog that indicated Slama has been advised he will be heading to AAA after the exhibition series vs. the Cardinals, so that makes the bullpen discussion moot… probably. It remains somewhat interesting to see whether Ron Mahay, signed this week, might maneuver his way on to the staff. Absent that happening, it looks like the pitching staff is pretty much set with only the decisions as to who starts and who closes yet to be determined. -JC