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  • Building a Bench

    While center field is still in flux, it is fairly clear at this point how the Twins envision their starting lineup coming together at the start of the season. Chris Parmelee will be taking over for Ben Revere in right, and Ron Gardenhire has made no secret of the fact that he'd like to see Brian Dozier and Pedro Florimon take the reigns in the middle infield. All other positions will be occupied by players reprising their roles from 2012.

    There is less certainty when it comes to the composition of the bench. When I projected the Opening Day roster in my spring training preview, I guessed that the Twins would follow the typical Gardy formula: short bench (resulting from a seven-man bullpen) populated by a third catcher and a bunch of defensive specialists who can pinch-run.

    The names I listed were Drew Butera, Jamey Carroll, Eduardo Escobar and Darin Mastroianni. It's still plenty plausible that the Twins could enter the season with that very group comprising their bench but a few recent comments and developments have added some interesting twists to this storyline.

    First, there's Jim Thome. His name has been buzzing around Twins Territory recently, and while there initially appeared to be little steam behind the rumors, it sounds more and more like Gardenhire would really like for it to happen.

    Could Jim Thome return to the Minnesota Twins?

    And why wouldn't he? The problem with the Twins' current bench candidates is that none of them are threats with the bat, which leaves the manager in a tough position in late-game situations when guys like Florimon, Dozier or Butera are due up.

    Thome is extremely limited at this point in his career but he'll always be a weapon as a pinch-hitter and his presence would be a treat for teammates and fans. The challenge is creating space on the bench, but that could potentially be accomplished by removing Butera from the equation.

    Would the Twins do such a thing? It has seemed unlikely, given that they re-upped him for $700,000 and Gardy has always enjoyed the comfort of having a third backstop on the roster, but recent reports that Escobar -- who was an emergency third catcher with the White Sox last year -- is getting in some work behind the plate suggest that the Twins may be trying to mitigate that need.

    If the Twins want to pass on Thome and look elsewhere for a bit of pop on the bench, there are several other intriguing candidates in camp, including Chris Collabello -- one of the feel good stories of this spring. Joe Benson could be a sleeper as well.

    With few starting jobs up in the air on offense, these open bench spots will provide some of the most compelling drama for fans craving position battles here in March. Personally, I hope the Twins make an effort to get creative and stray away from their norm. Why not?
    This article was originally published in blog: Building a Bench started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 43 Comments
    1. johnnydakota's Avatar
      johnnydakota -
      Personally we could sign Thome as a coach either in rochestor (player coach) or as a bench coach here in the bigs and then activate him in september for a goodbye tour...
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Gardy has also thrown Jeff Clement into the mix: With Morneau at Classic, Clement gets reps at first | twinsbaseball.com: News. I hadn't realized that he started out as a catcher in the minor leagues. It's not certain to me though, why he hasn't been behind the plate since 2008. Whether a position-changing-injury or simply inadequate performance behind the plate was the cause, a forced re-conversion back to catcher and a subsequent minor league version of Doumit Part 2 isn't exactly inspiring for additional bench strength.

      At this point, I'm inclined to go with a combination of Escobar and Colabello, that would be a story the Twins FO could market, if Cola simply proves he can produce around or slightly above median averages at DH/PH (and a needed RH bat).

      Is there any possibility what with all this discussion about converting or re-converting catchers and Mauer's possible increased role as C, that the Twins are actively thinking about the possibilities of moving Doumit between now and the trading deadline?
    1. studickison's Avatar
      studickison -
      Can't agree more, Nick. I think it would be good for the Twins and Gardenhire to move away from the norm and switch things up. I am in large favor of signing Thome! I think Colabello might be better to be in Rochester, playing every day and getting swings in and seeing pitches in case he is called upon due to injury. First base, to me anyway, seems pretty covered between Morneau, Parmelee and Mauer.
    1. FrodaddyG's Avatar
      FrodaddyG -
      Quote Originally Posted by johnnydakota View Post
      Personally we could sign Thome as a coach either in rochestor (player coach) or as a bench coach here in the bigs and then activate him in september for a goodbye tour...
      What a marketing campaign!

      "Come see an old guy who hasn't hit live pitching in a year come flail away one last time!"
    1. NoCryingInBaseball's Avatar
      NoCryingInBaseball -
      I have always thought that Butera was wasting a spot on the bench (and the roster) by taking up space in the dugout. I’m happy to see that Escobar has been working out as a backup catcher which could free up a roster spot. Even though I like Thome (mostly for the memories) I would prefer seeing Collabello or Benson take the open spot.
    1. jmlease1's Avatar
      jmlease1 -
      Carrying 12 pitchers is a bad idea. Getting down to 11 so the team can have a legitimate bench is a better call. The only way this team should need 12 pitchers is if the rotation is as much of a mess as it was last season, which would make the season an utter failure again.

      I'll love to see Butera get tossed over the side; I just don't think he adds much value. He's a fine defensive player but he's so awful with the bat that he's just not worth keeping on the roster. As a 3rd catcher/defensive replacement he won't hurt the team much, but a better bench bat should be able to help the team more.
    1. Brandon's Avatar
      Brandon -
      Thome > Butera. so I would make the move. I suspect this year a third string catcher will get at most 50 innings behind the plate this year. Thome brings a nice bat to the bench and insurance in case of injury to one of several players as Doumit can be redeployed to LF,RF, 1B, and C and Thome take over the DH and not lose much offensively. That would leave 3b as the only offensive downgrade in case of injury as Mastroinni or Hicks can take over for the other in CF, and SS and 2b are already a whole. Colabello can get some time at AAA and be ready in case Thome shows he is done.
    1. johnnydakota's Avatar
      johnnydakota -
      Quote Originally Posted by FrodaddyG View Post
      What a marketing campaign!

      "Come see an old guy who hasn't hit live pitching in a year come flail away one last time!"
      In rochestor he could be a dh or pinch hitter ...while waiting for a september call up..
      Also im guessing in september we will all need something to gain our interest again.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      I doubt they get him. Rumor has it he is demanding a major league contract. The Twins have offered him a minor league contract with a chance to make the team. At this point, it's a game of chicken. He would have to swallow his pride to come here. I don't think he will.

      There are four internal candidates: two outfielders (Wilkin Ramirez and Brandon Boggs) and two first basemen (Jeff Clement and Chris Colabello). All are having good camps. None are on the 40 man roster, but there will be roster spots at the end of camp. If I had to handicap it, I'd go like this:

      Boggs (30%) Because he can play all three outfield positions and he's a switch hitter with power and speed, and major league expereince
      Ramirez (25%) Because he had a great last two months last year and he's hitting well this spring
      Clement (20%) Because he has the most upside
      Colabello (15%) Because he's having the best spring at the plate of any of them, but is limited in other ways
      Thome (10%) See above
    1. raindog's Avatar
      raindog -
      Make Thome the 3rd catcher. BOOM. Problem solved. Can't be any worse than Lecroy was.

      I thought Boggs was pretty terrible at CF? Not sure he's a good option.
    1. SweetOne69's Avatar
      SweetOne69 -
      Quote Originally Posted by jmlease1 View Post
      Carrying 12 pitchers is a bad idea. Getting down to 11 so the team can have a legitimate bench is a better call. The only way this team should need 12 pitchers is if the rotation is as much of a mess as it was last season, which would make the season an utter failure again.
      If the argument was 13 pitchers I would agree with you, but since most teams carry 12 pitchers it kind of blows your argument out of the water.
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      The Twins need THAT bat. When you have someone on third and one out, you need someone who will hit a fairly long fly or put the ball into play in a way that works for the batting team's advantage. Mastro, Butera, Escobar can't. Carroll can make it interesting. A Thome is all or nothing. But then you have to replace him in the field.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Rosterman View Post
      The Twins need THAT bat. When you have someone on third and one out, you need someone who will hit a fairly long fly or put the ball into play in a way that works for the batting team's advantage. Mastro, Butera, Escobar can't. Carroll can make it interesting. A Thome is all or nothing. But then you have to replace him in the field.
      And on the bases. But this is where having two speedy backup infielders available would be advantageous. You pinch-hit Thome for, say, Dozier or Florimon, then replace Thome with Escobar. At that point, you'd still have Carroll in your back pocket. It gets a little dicey if you've only got one utility guy on hand, which is why in order to make room for Thome either Butera must go or the bench must be expanded.
    1. Halsey Hall's Avatar
      Halsey Hall -
      No way would I sign Thome. Nice guy and all, but he's done, and would just hurt us. He singles and there goes another bench spot with the pinch runner. Boggs or Colabello, maybe even Benson would be better. Hopefully we'll be in positions enough this year where Gardy will have some options to win or tie the games. Thome maybe would help 20% of the time. We've got to do better than that.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Is he done? His .786 OPS in 2012 would have been 3rd best on the Twins, behind only Willingham and Mauer.
    1. twinsnorth49's Avatar
      twinsnorth49 -
      If Gardy ever had the jam to punt Butera in favour of Escobar then I think I'd be ok with Thome being a bench bat, why not? I don't get the Colobello thing, nice story and everything but seriously, he's going to become a reliable, part time bench bat without ever seeing major league pitching before? He is 29, it's not like they'd be missing out on anything.

      Benson is intriguing but if he doesn't get the starting CF job over Hicks, I think he's better off in Rochester getting reps than being a fourth OF/ bench bat, for development purposes or if they ultimately decide to move him for some pitching.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      And on the bases. But this is where having two speedy backup infielders available would be advantageous. You pinch-hit Thome for, say, Dozier or Florimon, then replace Thome with Escobar. At that point, you'd still have Carroll in your back pocket. It gets a little dicey if you've only got one utility guy on hand, which is why in order to make room for Thome either Butera must go or the bench must be expanded.
      What good is Carroll at that point? Is the opposing manager going to think twice about intentionally walking Thome or bringing in a LOOGY to face him because there is the looming specter of Jamey Carroll? Presumably the reason you are PH-ing in the first place is because you are either behind or the game is tied.
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      Seriously? Jim Thome? How does Thome help your team rebuild? Every at bat and every inning for the 2013 season needs to be focused on rebuilding the team, not scratching out meaningless wins today. This should have been the focus for 2012 too, which we virtually wasted.

      Instead of Thome getting major league plate appearances, give them to Joe Benson. Benson is 25 years old this month. If he can't hit major league pitching now, he never will be able to. Keep him on the roster as the 4th or 5th OF, give him at least 150 plate appearances in the first 81 games and see what he can do over an extended course of real major league competition.

      If Benson fails, he fails, and we find a replacement just as Jim Eisenreich failed initially for the Twins. We found out that he could not handle the pressure in his home state and then found a replacement, Kirby Puckett. The lesson is that if the Twins would have sent Eisenreich back down to the minors in 1982 for more seasoning he would have still been standing in Puckett's way in 1984.

      But if Benson plays well, then there is something to build on going forward. It is win-win all the way.
    1. FrodaddyG's Avatar
      FrodaddyG -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      It gets a little dicey if you've only got one utility guy on hand, which is why in order to make room for Thome either Butera must go or the bench must be expanded.
      I'd say the "diceyness" of your bench would need more than Jim Thome to solve it if you're carrying two bench utility infielders beyond the two already manning your MI spots.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by raindog View Post
      Make Thome the 3rd catcher. BOOM. Problem solved. Can't be any worse than Lecroy was.

      I thought Boggs was pretty terrible at CF? Not sure he's a good option.
      None of these guys is a defensive wiz. But he's the best defender of any of the internal candidates. The primary role is pinch hitter.
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