Thursday, December 28, 2017

The bullpen takes shape

The signings of veteran relievers Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke have given some shape to a restructured Twins bullpen for 2018.

The back end of the relief corps seems fairly set:

Closer: Rodney
Setup 1: Trevor Hildenberger
Setup 2: Taylor Rogers
LOOGY 1: Zach Duke

Duke and Rogers might swap roles. I seem to be considerably cooler to the Duke signing than most internet commentators, certainly cooler than the actual decision makers.

That's only about half of a modern bullpen. The 2017 Twins carried eight relievers for much of the season, and unless and until they shore up the starting rotation, I will assume the 2018 Twins will do the same. So four more arms.

The four givens listed above aren't, with the possible exception of the aging Rodney, a collection of power arms. So we can expect that at least one spot will go to a high-velocity arm, and the Twins aren't short of internal candidates for that: Ryan Pressly, J.T. Chagrois, Alan Busenitz, John Curtiss.

My take on that group is: Pressly is the highest floor and lowest ceiling. Chagrois has the highest ceiling but a history of injury. Busenitz didn't pitch as well as his ERA would indicate in 2017. Curtiss, who had a cup of coffee last year, is the only one of the group without some level of major league success. My guess is Pressly is first in line, which would fit with the risk-avoidance approach the front office has taken with the Rodney and Duke signings.

I would also expect Tyler Duffey to return to the multi-inning role, pitching two or three innings at a time two or three times a week He seemed to thrive in that role for a couple of months in 2017; his performance deteriorated when he was deployed in shorter and more frequent outings.

Then there are the rehab projects, Trevor May and Phil Hughes, to consider. May had Tommy John surgery last spring, Hughes a second round of thoracic outlet syndrome. Both are nominally starters, but we don't know as the calendar turns over how ready either will be for 100 pitches every five days.

The Twins rotation is rather unsettled as of now, with Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson as givens, Aldaberto Mejia the likely fourth starter and question marks behind him. I doubt the Twins want to go into spring training counting on one of Hughes or May for the fifth starter role -- again, they've prioritized risk avoidance. While they haven't moved yet on the rotation, I still expect them to add at least one starter, and I think they want two.

But they don't have a lot of roster flexibility with either May or Hughes. Each is either on the disabled list or on the major league staff; they can't be optioned out. So the more starters the Twins add, the more likely May/Hughes are to land in the bullpen, which makes a certain amount of sense in the rehab process.

Which would give us a bullpen like this:

Closer: Rodney
Setup 1: Hildenberger
Setup 2: Rogers
MR 1: Pressly
MR 2: Duffey
Utility: May
Long: Hughes

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