Roster Comes In To Focus… Or Does It?

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:

Roster Locks:

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…

Losers:

Ben Revere has been re-assigned to Rochester, but look for him to make his Twins debut in 2010

Jacque Jones impressed, but not enough to convince the Twins to keep 5 OF

Matt Tolbert's occasional problems in the field didn't help his cause this spring

Danny Valencia realistically had no chance... but we'll likely see him in 2010.

Winners:

Alexi Casilla appears to have claimed the final position-player roster spot

Francisco Liriano won a spot... but which spot?

Still competing:

If Neshek hasn't earned a spot, it's just proof Gardy REALLY doesn't like blogs

Brian Duensing could work out of the pen or in the rotation.

Are the old school stirrups enough to earn Slama a spot in the pen?

Will Wilson Ramos back up Mauer... or will it be Drew Butera (no pic, sorry Drew)?

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

5 thoughts on “Roster Comes In To Focus… Or Does It?

  1. Also, Gardy was quoted as saying that Duensing would open the season in the ‘pen.

    The idea that Neshek wouldn’t make the team is horrifying. As is the idea that Condrey will.

    And taking Casilla over Jacque is just criminal.

  2. Clay Condrey hasn’t had a good ST. But given his intended role (long reliever and mop up arm out of the pen), I can’t honestly say there’s someone else I would give give his spot to. It’s not like Slama is going to fill that role so Condrey isn’t taking his spot. Guys like Manship, Swarzak, et al, need to be getting regular starts in Rochester, not mopping up meaningless games with the Twins.

    I also don’t look at it as Casilla getting a spot over Jones, really. Thome is the guy getting what might have, in other springs, gone to Jones. The Twins were going to keep two back up infielders. One was Punto or Harris (whichever doesn’t start). The other was going to be Tolbert or Casilla. Tolbert needed to outperform Casilla by enough to outweigh the fact that Casilla was out of options and Tolbert wasn’t.

    I think Jones came aboard knowing there really wasn’t a spot for him on the roster, absent an injury. He got a chance to show he can still play and he’ll either keep showing that in Rochester so he’s ready when needed or he opened some eyes in other organizations to the point where the Twins could get a young player for him in a trade.

  3. I don’t think the Twins want him going to another team, either… and they do control that. It’s a long season and I think they like knowing he’s a phone call away in Rochester. They won’t just give him away… at least not until quite a bit later in the season, if/when it becomes clear they won’t need him and they give him an opportunity to go to a team that would have room for him on their major league roster.

  4. As I read it, Gardy said was that either Liriano or Duensing would be the 5th starter and that the other would go to the ‘pen. Making it clear that as of now, Liriano has the inside track to be the 5th starter. The real question mark seems to be Perkins. WTH are they going to do with him if he suddenly gets all healthy? Maybe he and Condrey can go off to an island somewhere together? Play soft toss all season. I’m sure they’d be very happy.