Tuesday, December 12, 2017

In search of closer No.5

Paul Molitor, in his three seasons managing the Twins, has never had a stable back-of-the-bullpen plan.

He inherited Glen Perkins, an All-Star, as his closer. Perkins was better than ever for the first half of 2015, then got hurt and kept pitching. His season deteriorated, and by season's end Kevin Jepsen had supplanted him in the ninth inning.

Perkins tried again the next year, but one regular season outing was enough to convince everyone that the offseason's rest hadn't solved things. Jepsen, who had been reliable in 2015, wasn't in 2016, and by midseason Brandon Kintzler had taken over the ninth.

Kintzler held the job for more than a calendar year. He proved effective in the role -- effective enough to get a replacement appointment to the All-Star team in 2017 -- until the Twins traded him to Washington for a prospect and international spending space.

At which point Matt Belisle emerged as the quasi closer. Molitor didn't go "full Eckersley" with Belisle -- there were a few long saves by people like Tyler Duffey and Dillon Gee and Gabriel Moya -- but for three outs, Belisle was Molitor's preferred choice in August and September.

What all four have in common: They were veterans. They'd been around a while. There's not much else they have in common.

Jepsen threw hard, with uncertain command; Kinztler has a mediocre strikeout rate but good command and movement; Belisle's 2017 K rate was stronger than Kintzler's, but his ability to work consecutive days was, and remains, questionable.

What I take from this: Molitor prefers a known quantity for the end of games. Not necessarily a "proven closer" -- indeed, none of the successors to Perkins had ever held the glory job even as a fill-in before the Twins --  but somebody who's been through plenty of ups and downs, failures and successes.

And now, while Belisle (and Kintzler) free agents, the job is vacant once again.

The Twins during the second term of Terry Ryan spent a number of high draft picks on relief prospects. As a result they have a number of young, high-upside relief arms in their system. I've been listing them and waiting on them for years. And it's time for some of them to break through.

Indeed, the exposure of Jake Reed and Nick Burdi to the Rule 5 draft this week, the waiving of Randy Rosario (lost to the Cubs) and the sale of Michael Tonkin to a Japanese team all suggest the new front office is at a "prove it" point with a number of them.

Even without those four, the Twins still have Tyler Jay, J.T Chargois and Luke Bard (among others) in their minors, while Trevor Hildenberger, Alan Busenitz, John Curtiss and Moya all finished 2017 with the big club with varying levels of success.

From the Pioneer Press' Mike Berardino at the winter meetings:

“I think somebody on our current roster will garner a save (in 2018),” Twins general manager Thad Levine said jokingly on Monday at the winter meetings. “I think we’re open-minded we may have our closer of the future on our current roster. Do we want to thrust that person into that role come Opening Day? Ideally not.”
Which suggests that the Twins are looking for a veteran to fill the job to open the season -- with an eye to moving him out of the role as Molitor grows more comfortable with using one of the kids.

Such a high-floor, low ceiling approach generally irritates me, but I understand it. The 2018 Twins should view themselves as a playoff contender, and as such don't want to give away games because an inexperienced pitcher panicked late. And as a team entering a window of contention, they don't want to shipwreck a promising relief prospect emotionally. Let them grow into the job.

At the same time, they have enough young arms who could be the next star reliever that there's no good reason to overspend on the likes of free agents Wade Davis or Greg Holland.

No comments:

Post a Comment