Monday, January 25, 2016

What's left in the bullpen

The Mets last week signed free agent Antonio Bastardo to a two-year, $12 million contract.

This development disappointed a segment of Twins Twitterdom, which contains a number of voices that hoped the Twins would sign the Dominican lefty specialist. I am not among the disappointed. I consider multi-year contracts for relief pitchers  unwise. While there are exceptions, 30-year-olds with career ERAs of 3.58, compiled entirely in the DH-less league, are not among them.

Still, the role of left-handed-reliever-other-than-Glen Perkins has yet to be cast. There are veteran southpaws still searching for their 2016 contract (including Brian Duensing and Neil Cotts, who were among the 2015 LHROTGP), but let's quickly count up the candidates already on hand.

Left-handers on the 40-man roster who are not Perkins or starter Tommy Milone:

  • Pat Dean
  • Mason Melotakis
  • Ryan O'Rourke
  • Taylor Rogers
  • Randy Rosario
  • Mike Strong

Left-handed non-roster invitees:

  • Fernando Abad
  • Buddy Boshers
  • Dan Runzler
  • Aaron Thompson

This may be a burst of optimism large enough to be seen from the space station, but I have to believe that out of 10 pitchers deemed to have shown enough to get a spot on the 40-man roster or an invite to major league camp, at least one is capable of getting a couple of outs every other day.

Of course, that raises the question: Can the Twins identify that pitcher at spring training? Some managers have an absolute gift for this, and some do not. Paul Molitor got a lot more mileage out of Blaine Boyer and Aaron Thompson last year than I could have imagined, and Thompson's name is among the 10.

The realistic list of in-house candidates is closer to a half dozen than to 10. Melotakis is coming off Tommy John surgery; he's not coming north in April. Rosario spent 2015 in low A ball, where he was coming off the same ligament replacement surgery, and anyway the Twins want him to be a starter until he establishes that he needs to go to the bullpen. Runzler and Boshers pitched in independent leagues in 2015 (Renzler also for the Arizona Triple A team), and they figure to be fodder for the Rochester roster.

The three most likely guys are Abad, Rogers and Strong, probably in that order. Rogers -- and Pat Dean, for that matter -- has been a starter in the farm system but ranks pretty far down the list of presumptive starters. Both fit something Terry Ryan has said he's looking for in a lefty reliever -- somebody who isn't limited to a LOOGY specialty role, as O'Rourke is.

Then there's Logan Darnell, currently in DFA limbo after the acquistion of Strong. If nobody claims Darnell on waivers, the Twins are free to outright him to the Triple A roster, and he would presumably have a major league invite, and he would be a realistic possibility for the roster too.

And really, that's the route I'd prefer the Twins take: give the opportunity to a Darnell, Rogers, Strong or Dean. (I might actually prefer seeing Rosario, who probably has the best stuff of the 11, get a shot, but I know that's not happening.) Recycling a vet such as Abad is, as I said of Casey Fien, an attempt at minimizing the risk. I'd rather they take a shot at a higher ceiling.

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