Friday, October 30, 2009

Filling in the pitching gaps

I was browsing through the most recent issue of Baseball America and found in their Transactions column the news that the Twins had officially released pitchers Phil Humber and R.A. Dickey.

No real surprises there. Dickey had a decent run with the Twins in the first half, then seemed to lose something on his hard knuckler, and once he went back to Triple A the Twins never saw fit to bring him back. Not that his 5.13 ERA in Rochester suggested he deserved to return.

And the release of Humber reduced the return on Johan Santana to Carlos Gomez; Delois Guerra (who had a mild bounce-back season but is still not the prospect he was was the time of the trade); and, indirectly, Jon Rauch (acquired for Kevin Mulvey).

The Twins cut Humber and Dickey loose early because it was obvious that they didn't fit into their plans.

Which raises the question: What are the plans for the Twins 2010 pitching staff? What jobs are taken, what gaps need to be filled and who have they on hand to fill the gaps?

Figure it's a 12-man staff again. Pitchers in parenthesis are eligible for free agency but with mutual interest in returning to the Twins. Some of these job descriptions are arbitrary, but reasonable.

Starter 1: Scott Baker (15-9, 4.37 ERA, 200 IP)
Starter 2: Vacant
Starter 3: Kevin Slowey (10-3, 4.86, 90.2)
Starter 4: Nick Blackburn (above) (11-11, 4.03, 205.2)
Starter 5: (Carl Pavano) (14-12, 5.10, 199.1)

Comments: I put the vacancy in the No. 2 slot because that's really where the gap is. Slowey is a more talented pitcher than either Blackburn or Pavano, but he has yet to survive a full season in a major league rotation. Blackburn and Pavano are very good guys for the back end of a rotation; I rank Blackburn higher because he's thrown about twice as many innings as Pavano has over the past two years.

The Twins need somebody who can challenge Baker for the title of best starter on the team. I don't think that pitcher is on hand right now. Kyle Gibson might get there some day; some still hold out hope for Francisco Liriano.

I expect the Twins to re-sign Pavano or acquire some other veteran pitcher. Either way, a rotation slot is going to be filled with a younger arm.

In-house candidates for the rotation: Liriano, Brian Duensing, Glen Perkins, Boof Bonser, Jeff Manship. If Manship opens the season in the rotation, it probably means a lot of injuries. If Perkins opens in the rotation after (a) compiling a 5.89 ERA last season; (b) irritating the coaching staff by complaining of injuries after poor outings and (c) filing a grievance after a late season demotion deprived him of arbitration eligibility, I'll be shocked.

Closer: Joe Nathan (2.10 ERA, 47 saves)
Setup #1 (RH): Matt Guerrier (2.36, 33 holds)
Setup #2 (LH): Jose Mijares (2.34, 27 holds)
Middle relief #1: Rauch (3.60, 17 holds)
Middle relief #2: Jesse Crain (4.70, 5 holds)
LOOGY/utility pitcher: (Ron Mahay) (4.29, 6 holds)
Long man: Vacant

Comments: Mijares at times was used strictly as a LOOGY (Left-handed One Out GuY). One can argue that Rauch is the No. 2 set up guy and Mijares is the LOOGY. Like I said: Arbitrary.

... Not all that certain what Crain's contract status is. I believe his contract has expired but he isn't eligible to file for free agency, which makes him arbitration eligible. The Twins generally make an offer to such players, but they could cut him loose. His post-All-Star break ERA (2.91) suggest they'll keep him.

... Mahay is 38. He pitched poorly for Kansas City, well for the Twins, but it was just 9 innings for Minnesota spread through 16 appearances.

Primary candidates: Pat Neshek, Bonser, Perkins, Duensing, Liriano. Neshek's the one guy in that list who doesn't make sense in the long man's role. If he's healthy, he's almost certain to push into that late inning pile with Guerrier, Rauch, Mijares and Crain. Which would push Mijares to the LOOGY job, and probably means a lefty has the inside track for the long man role.

... I include Perkins on the two lists of candidates only because he's still on the 40-man roster. The friction between him (and/or his agent) and the organization over his late-season demotion makes it increasingly unlikely that he'll be around next season.

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