Who’s Closing for the Twins in 2011?

Since the Twins were eliminated from the 2010 postseason, we (and a whole lot of other people) have written a bit about the roster decisions the Twins will be making this off-season. I still haven’t quite landed on what I really want to see Bill Smith and the gang do about the roster. One thing I have figured out, though, is that if I sat down to write a blog post about what I think the Twins should do, it would be a very… very… long post.

So I think we should attack this subject a little bit at a time. Like, maybe just one or two players in a post. Let’s especially look at some of the guys that may or may not be wearing the Twins pinstripes next season. Along the way, if we decide they may not be around, we should also mention something about the options the team might explore to replace that player.

Let’s start with Jesse Crain and Matt Capps because I believe their futures with the Twins are mutually exclusive. If one stays, the other goes elsewhere. And I think both of their fates are entangled a bit with Joe Nathan’s.

Jesse Crain

Let me just say that I’m one of those people who think the “save” statistic is wayyyyyy overrated as a meaningful statistic. That said, I don’t believe you can just plug any decent bullpen arm in to the closer role and watch them succeed. Mental makeup matters. But it’s really too bad that saves have become the kind of statistic that makes the difference between whether a pitcher makes $8 million a year or $3 million.

Think that’s an overstatement? Consider that for most of 2010, Jesse Crain was clearly the most effective pitcher coming out of the Twins’ bullpen. But he wasn’t getting saves. Matt Capps was. Jon Rauch was. Brian Fuentes got saves for the Angels before coming over to the Twins. Next season, unless he and his agent can find a team willing to just hand him a closer job (and pay him accordingly), Jesse Crain is probably going to be pitching somewhere for less than $4 million. All three of his team mates mentioned above, who racked up over 20 saves each during the season, may be making “closer money” somewhere… likely twice what Crain will get.

As much as I would love to see Crain back in the same role he had this year with the Twins… coming in to games in the most critical late-inning situations (which I think is when teams SHOULD use their most dominant reliever)... you really can’t blame Crain for publicly stating that he’d like get an opportunity to be a closer somewhere. Yes, you and I could live just fine on $3-4 million a year. I’m sure Jesse does, too. But we’re talking about possibly doubling his pay if he can work himself in to a closer role in the next year or two and start notching those saves. That would matter to me, too.

Joe Nathan

The Twins are a bit handcuffed by the $12.5 million they’re going to be obligated to pay Joe Nathan next season. That’s high-end closer money going to a guy who probably is not going to be closing for them. Yes, it would be wonderful if Nathan came to Spring Training and just picked right up where he left off before having his elbow rebuilt this past March. But it’s really just not reasonable to expect that to happen. It would be rare for a pitcher to return to that level of effectiveness that soon. It would be foolish of the Twins not to have at least one other option they trust to slam the door on opponents in the last inning.

Sure, maybe one of the cheaper arms in the Twins’ stable could step in… Mijares or Neshek maybe… or perhaps one of the kids who have been toiling in Rochester or New Britain could rise to the challenge. But if you were Bill Smith, would you want to rely on that? I’m not Bill Smith and I don’t want to rely on that.

The Twins need a Plan B (or arguably a Plan A, with a fully recovered Nathan the Plan B). That’s where Capps and Crain come in.

Matt Capps (PioneerPress photo)

Matt Capps is arbitration eligible and people who know this stuff much better than I do say he’d get something around $8-9 million in arbitration because that process rewards those pesky save statistics. I know Capps is not exactly Mr. Popular among a lot of Twins fans/bloggers. I’ve never quite understood that. He’s still young and I expect he’ll perform well in a closer role for several years to come… somewhere. Then again, Jesse Crain has felt the wrath of Twins fans/bloggers, as well, over the years.

Crain is a free agent. To bring him back, the Twins will need to outbid other teams who might be interested in his services. I’m not sure any team will pay him $5+ million and promise him the opportunity to close, but they might. If he gets that kind of offer, he should take it and the Twins should thank him for his services and say good-bye. Hey… at least that would free up the Twins to retire #28 when Bert is elected to the Hall of Fame this year, right?

But if Crain doesn’t get that kind of offer elsewhere, maybe he’d be willing to come back for another year with the Twins at $3-4 million (perhaps with a much higher option for 2012 with a reasonable buy-out) and the promise that he’ll be given an opportunity to compete for the closer role.

If the Twins could make that deal with Crain, they could non-tender Capps and save a few bucks to use elsewhere. Alternatively, they could go ahead and take Capps to arbitration and then let Capps and Crain compete in March. The winner gets the Twins closer gig and the loser gets traded to someone else who suddenly finds themselves needing a closer as Opening Day nears. Someone always needs a closer as Opening Day nears.

The risk of this approach, however, is that if one of those guys gets injured, the Twins are stuck paying both Capps and Crain next season.

The bottom line is, I don’t see a need to carry Nathan, Crain and Capps in to 2011. That’s about $25 million in salary to three relief pitchers and I believe that’s a luxury the Twins can’t afford if they’re going to maintain a competitive group of every day players. – JC

Use the comment section to tell us who you think will/should get the opportunity to fill the role of Twins’ closer in 2011.

3 thoughts on “Who’s Closing for the Twins in 2011?

  1. I think you are missing something in your formula…Matty G. Both Crain and Matty are arb-elg., and the Twins cant keep both. Matty, for as awesome as he is, is pretty redundant in the Twins system (guys who can go multiple innings and dont strike anyone out, get some ground balls: Manship, Burnett, Duensing (if he is not in the starting rotation), Rauch (if he is still with the team))
    While Crain stands out on the relief staff because he is a guy who can throw hard and maybe strike a guy or two out in his appearance

  2. Thanks for the comment, James. I didn’t bring Shaggy in to the discussion because, right or wrong, I don’t consider him part of the mix as a potential closer in 2011. I was going to address him in a separate post, but what the heck, let’s do it here.

    What makes Guerrier’s case interesting is that I believe he’s a Type A free agent. This means that if the Twins DO offer arbitration and he rejects it, the Twins will get two compensation picks if he signs with someone else. I think that’s more value than having him in the pen and more than he would bring in a trade. On the other hand, Type A middle relievers have been faring pretty poorly on the free agent market the past couple of years (because they cost the signing team a valuable draft pick), so there’s a pretty reasonable chance Guerrier might decide to accept the arbitration offer from the Twins because it may just result in a better payday than free agency would.

    Crain projects as a Type B free agent, so the Twins would get just a single “sandwich” pick if he rejects arbitration and signs elsewhere… and would be more attractive to other teams than Guerrier since signing Crain wouldn’t cost them a draft pick.

    But to get those compensation picks for either pitcher, the Twins have to offer arbitration. Since they can’t wait for one guy to accept/reject before offering to the other, there’s at least some chance that either (or both) might accept. The result would be that the Twins could be stuck with up to $9 million in salary going to these guys PLUS the $20+ million they’ll be paying Capps and Nathan.

    It’s going to make for some tough decisions on Bill Smith’s part.

  3. I guess I got carried away and went off topic a bit, but I do thing that Crain and Guerrier’s future with the Twins are tied to each other. One will be back, the other wont.

    As for future closer, Nathan gets his job back, and if he cant go, Capper will get it