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Position Battles: The Bullpen

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ID:	6572The Twins need to make some decisions about the back end of their bullpen. And those decisions might not be based on merit. To understand why, we need to talk about ďoptions.Ē And 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

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.
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