Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Contemplating the bullpen situation

Blaine Boyer entered
Tuesday leading
the American League
in games pitched.
We arrive in this series, finally, to the area of the Twins roster most in need of an upgrade -- and probably the one easiest to upgrade without long-term damage to the organization: The bullpen.

Specifically, the bullpen in front of Glen Perkins. There's nothing wrong with Perkins. There's a lot wrong with the six others.

The Twins are slightly better than AL average in terms of relief pitching ERA. No team in the league has blown fewer leads. But the average relief pitcher in the American league strikes out 8.3 men per nine innings. Perkins is a bit over that average. Other than Ryan O'Rourke, who has faced all of 11 hitters since his callup (entering Tuesday's game) and starter-in-waiting Trevor May, nobody in the current bullpen is within 1 K/9 of the league average.

Good bullpens have power arms. The Twins don't have that. And that is the single biggest difference between the Twins and the Kansas City Royals. The Royals can stack swing-and-miss pitchers from the sixth inning on; the Twins have none until the ninth.

I have a specific idea to address that. His name is Jonathan Papelbon.

J.R. Graham's ERA
jumped from 2.85 to
3.58 on Sunday.
The All-Star closer is vocally unhappy in Philadelphia, and has been demanding a trade to a contender for weeks. His too-large contract expires at the end of the season unless he finishes 23 more games (more on that later), so given the frequent professions of payroll leeway, I think the Twins can absorb his deal for the remainder of the year. The Phillies are officially, if belatedly, in rebuild mode.

In my mind, the only question here is if Papelbon is willing to step down from his accustomed ninth-inning role to set up Perkins. I don't know what, if any, no-trade protection he has. Taking the eighth-inning role could be expensive for him; in that role, there's no way he's finishing enough games to vest his $13 million option of 2016 (he needs 55 this year and entered Tuesday with 32). And while he remains a quality relief pitcher, few if any teams today would give any reliever $13 million a year. He says he's unhappy in Philly because they're not in contention. But losing out on that 2016 option (which he might not attain even if he remains a closer) might also make him unhappy.

That aside, Papelbon figures to be a rent-a-player. A good rent-a-player in exactly the role the Twins need to upgrade.

I've no idea what the Phillies are demanding for Papelbon. but I would be in favor of giving them their choice of Oswaldo Arcia or Adam Brett Walker, two young outfielders with big power and other holes in their games. In return, the Twins take all the Papelbon contract risk.

The Phillies may be waiting for more than that. But it might be a doable deal in the next few days.

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