• Position Battle: The Bullpen

    The Twins need to make some decisions about the back end of their bullpen. Those decisions might not be based on merit. To understand why, we need to talk about ďoptions.Ē My favorite way to talk about technical baseball transactions is to compare them to my marriage, even if it means blatantly plagiarizing my own story. So letís talk aboutÖ

    Options
    By the fourth year together, you better be ready for a commitment. At that point, youíre out of options.

    At 27 years old, this was explained to me subtly by my girlfriend Ö.

    OK, subtly might be a little generous. She is not known for her subtlety. To be fair, she is from Philly. And Iím a Minnesota guy. So subtlety was neither going to find the seed nor the fertile ground to thrive. And that works for us. Letís try that sentence again.

    At 27 years old, this was explained to me demonstratively by my girlfriend in our fourth year together. During the first year we barely saw each other, both of us clumsily falling into a long-distance relationship. The second year I moved to Philly and we navigated those life-changing rapids. The third year we drifted lazily down lifeís river.

    And then the fourth year came and all hell broke loose. Because I was out of options. A commitment needed to be made, or she was going to be gone. I had a decision to make.

    Baseball options work the same way. A team has three seasons to make up its mind. If it doesnít commit by the fourth, the player is going to be gone. The Twins have a decision to make.

    Once a player is put on the 40-man roster (dating), the ballclub can only keep him off of the 25-man roster (marriage) for three seasons. It doesnít matter how many times that person is added to or taken off of the 25-man roster during that season Ė the whole season is an option. So a player can be sent up and down multiple times during the season and itís still one option. Or they can spend the entire season in the minors, and thatís also one option. The critical point is that they spend some time during that season not on the 25-man roster.

    Options are something that major league teams must consider as they break spring training. A player who doesnít make the roster and is out of options can be claimed by another team which has space on its 25-man roster. She finds somebody else who is a little more willing to make a commitment.

    This year, options could mean bad news for some worthy relievers.

    The Bullpen

    Of the seven pitchers that will be in the bullpen, three guys are perfectly safe due to their performance and veteran status: closer Glen Perkins, right-handed reliever Jared Burton and Anthony Swarzak. At least one more, right-hander reliever Casey Fien is also a lock, though itís worth at least noting that he has an option left.

    Youíll notice that we havenít mentioned any left-handed setup men yet, and the two heavy favorites would be Brian Duensing (who also benefits from being guaranteed $2 million this year) and Caleb Thielbar. But itís also worth mentioning that both of them have options years left too.

    And in an optionless world, the seventh would likely be right-hander Michael Tonkin, who sports a 95 mph fastball, struck out more than batter per inning in AAA and impressed in a few short stints with the team last year. Or else it might be right-hander Ryan Pressly, who posted a 3.87 ERA over 76.2 innings in the bullpen last year. Or maybe one of the other 13 able-bodied arms they have in camp.

    But itís not an optionless world, and there are three other pitchers to whom the Twins will either need to make a commitment or lose to another team. Barring any injuries in spring training, Sam Deduno Scott Diamond and Vance Worley will all be competing for the 5th (and last) starting pitching spot, and none of them have options.

    So Tonkin, Pressly and Thielbar might not control their own fates. Any could be stashed in the minors while right-handers Deduno or Worley play long reliever or southpaw Scott Diamond takes the role of second left-hander. Not necessarily on merit, mind you, but because the Twins need to make a commitment or lose them.


    I also had to make a commitment or lose someone. So I went on a summer trip, had an experience that deserves its own column (where it can be used as an overreaching baseball analogy), and married that girl four years to the day after we met. Next month, The Voice of Reasonô and I will have been married twenty years.

    (And Iíve never wanted another option.)

    ~~~~~

    If youíre ever looking for which players have options and which donít, check out the bottom table in the Minnesota Twins Roster & Payroll page, which Jeremy Nygaard has generously created for Twins Daily.
    This article was originally published in blog: Position Battles: The Bullpen started by John Bonnes
    Comments 18 Comments
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Hard to tell about the pen this season. Perkins, Burton, Swarzak and Duensing are the only 4 locks in my book. Plus there are some outsiders like Oliveras and Guerra who are finally healthy and knocking on the door as well.

      Interesting to see what happens
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      One must consider that this is a rebuilding team and retaining players who failed before, and failed during this preseason doesn't make any sense. This skill-level type player is always available--so losing one (or more) is no loss. Every manager has to make cuts--and some will have to go! The article defined several successful bullpen pitchers, it would be foolish to demote one of them to retain a failed starter.
    1. jimv2's Avatar
      jimv2 -
      Congratualtions on 20 years, John, and best wishes for seeing 30 and more.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      I think that Perkins, Burton, Fien, Swarzak and Duensing are givens. I think that Thielbar and Pressly should be givens but due to options probably aren't.

      When rebuilding, there's no need to give up anyone that you don't have to without getting something in return.
    1. Major Leauge Ready's Avatar
      Major Leauge Ready -
      Quote Originally Posted by Kwak View Post
      One must consider that this is a rebuilding team and retaining players who failed before, and failed during this preseason doesn't make any sense. This skill-level type player is always available--so losing one (or more) is no loss. Every manager has to make cuts--and some will have to go! The article defined several successful bullpen pitchers, it would be foolish to demote one of them to retain a failed starter.
      Maybe my perception is off but was'nt Perkins a failed starter?
    1. crarko's Avatar
      crarko -
      Quote Originally Posted by Major Leauge Ready View Post
      Maybe my perception is off but was'nt Perkins a failed starter?
      Swarzak and Duensing as well. I expect one of the three option-less starters to find a spot in the pen. I'd be sad if they really do go to a 13 man staff in April to stash two of them there.
    1. wabene's Avatar
      wabene -
      Quote Originally Posted by Major Leauge Ready View Post
      Maybe my perception is off but was'nt Perkins a failed starter?
      "Swarzak and Duensing as well. I expect one of the three option-less starters to find a spot in the pen. I'd be sad if they really do go to a 13 man staff in April to stash two of them there."
      A guy like Diamond with fringe stuff is not the same as someone like Perk, a #1 pick with velocity. We been there done that with guys like Diamond. Would somebody really find room for him on the 25? Look what happened with Hendrix another AAAA guy. If Diamond is gone, Deduno on DL and Worley At 5 for another shot; best result IMO. But, didn't Correa already get tweaked. The other side of this is depth is good if unfamiliar.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      Quote Originally Posted by crarko View Post
      Swarzak and Duensing as well. I expect one of the three option-less starters to find a spot in the pen. I'd be sad if they really do go to a 13 man staff in April to stash two of them there.
      Most pitchers are failed starters. But, Perkins wasn't a total bust--and as was pointed-out he had a very good fastball and slider. The "failures" I'm referencing don't have anything resembling "+ stuff".

      In a similar vein, in 2008, the Twins were convinced that they should "obtain value" for Livan Hernandez. So they hung on to him (starting him) which kept a rather successful Liriano in Rochester. Livan ran out of magic dust and the Twins frittered-away some games before DFAing him and promoting Liriano. Liriano was "more than effective" on his return. Oh, the season ended in a game 163 loss--one more "win" in the regulation 162 and the Twins win their division and go to face the Rays in post-season. Sometimes a team just has to "cut bait". This Spring will be another of those times.
    1. OldManWinter's Avatar
      OldManWinter -
      John, congratulations on twenty. I also "saved" my wife from the streets of Philly, soon to be 46 years.
    1. gocgo's Avatar
      gocgo -
      Quote Originally Posted by Kwak View Post
      Most pitchers are failed starters. But, Perkins wasn't a total bust--and as was pointed-out he had a very good fastball and slider. The "failures" I'm referencing don't have anything resembling "+ stuff".

      In a similar vein, in 2008, the Twins were convinced that they should "obtain value" for Livan Hernandez. So they hung on to him (starting him) which kept a rather successful Liriano in Rochester. Livan ran out of magic dust and the Twins frittered-away some games before DFAing him and promoting Liriano. Liriano was "more than effective" on his return. Oh, the season ended in a game 163 loss--one more "win" in the regulation 162 and the Twins win their division and go to face the Rays in post-season. Sometimes a team just has to "cut bait". This Spring will be another of those times.
      I agree. It seems like we get handcuffed because we are afraid to lose out on someone that might have success on another team. So, we put other guys on hold who may also have potential. Sometimes, you just have to make a decision and go with it. In this case, take the guys who deserve to be there. Doing anything else sends the wrong message to the rest of the guys in the minors.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      When rebuilding, there's no need to give up anyone that you don't have to without getting something in return.
      Agreed, but how would you characterize what happened to Slowey, Thome, Liriano, Young, Burnett, Hendriks et. al. and a bunch of minor leaguers including Angel Morales in the past few seasons?
    1. The Wise One's Avatar
      The Wise One -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      Agreed, but how would you characterize what happened to Slowey, Thome, Liriano, Young, Burnett, Hendriks et. al. and a bunch of minor leaguers including Angel Morales in the past few seasons?
      Slowey, Liriano and Young returned prospects.
      Any of the recently released prospects catch fire and make it to the majors? If the answer is no then you have you answer staring at you why they were released. 20-60 prospects every year becomes mostly released players.
    1. troyhobbs's Avatar
      troyhobbs -
      I like the idea of keeping the guys without options and spot starting several guys in the 5th rotation slot as well as seeing how those same guys come out of the pen. Come trade deadline take anything you can get for anyone not named Perkins or Nolasco and bring up the young guys
    1. BD57's Avatar
      BD57 -
      John, anticipatory congrats on 20 years with TVOR - glad to hear you don't want or need another option.
    1. chuchadoro's Avatar
      chuchadoro -
      I have an Arby's coupon that is about to expire but I already went shopping and have plenty of decent food in my kitchen. Should I use the coupon while I still can, possibly at the expense of the food I already bought? Probably not since I got Arby's last year, ate half my sandwich, decided it was not fit for human consumption, and cooked a different meal.
    1. troyhobbs's Avatar
      troyhobbs -
      Quote Originally Posted by chuchadoro View Post
      I have an Arby's coupon that is about to expire but I already went shopping and have plenty of decent food in my kitchen. Should I use the coupon while I still can, possibly at the expense of the food I already bought? Probably not since I got Arby's last year, ate half my sandwich, decided it was not fit for human consumption, and cooked a different meal.
      If you only eat half of your Arbys it's fine because you weren't really meant to enjoy this meal anyway, your groceries won't expire for a long time and may just go better with something not in your cupboards yet.
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      I have nothing against Worley or Diamond. (Excluding Deduno as healthy, he is pretty much the de-facto 5th starter, and generally agreed to have the best "stuff"). Each has climbed the milb latter with decent numbers and success, and shown in the majors what they are capable of. Unfortunately, their pure stuff is nothing outstanding, and each has also shown the ability to be down right aweful as well.

      I don't like the idea of dumping a player out of options and getting nothing in return. Especially a younger player who, in theory, has potential. And yes, many quality relievers are in fact "failed" starters.

      However, moving to the bullpen doesn't guarantee success of any kind. Further, a 5th starter with mixed results, even young, doesn't mean you have a diamond, no pun intended, just waiting to be polished, who will suddenly blossom in to something special or strong.

      I have a hard time accepting keeping a failed starter at the expense of a strong young bullpen arm out of some sense of fear of potential loss. There are times, especially with a team with loads of young talent knocking on the door, and a team in the transition phase that the Twins are, where you have to make tough decisions and let some guys go.
    1. Sconnie's Avatar
      Sconnie -
      Thankfully the FO has a little time before opening day. Is a 6 man rotation out of the question?

      After watching all of the starters struggle and the bullpen seemingly run out of gas, I'm not worried about the glut of mid to back end pitching.

      Hopefully Worley and/or Diamond pitch well enough to become tradeable assets and Deduno comes back from injury healthy and effective.
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