The Hazy Future of Fernando Romero
Image courtesy of Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY SportsIn mostly bypassing the reliever free agent market (a wise enough choice, in retrospect) the Twins envisioned a bullpen whose back-end would be powered by the likes of Taylor Rogers, Trevor May, Addison Reed, Trevor Hildenberger, and Fernando Romero, with other options to emerge during the course of the year.
In some ways, this blueprint has come to fruition. Rogers is one of the most valuable relievers in baseball. May, outside of a few hiccups, has been a dominant force. As for those those other quality contributors developing on the fringes? We've seen plenty: Ryne Harper, Zack Littell, Tyler Duffey, and so on.
But the almost total lack of impact from Reed, Hildenberger and Romero has left a sizable late-inning void that the team is struggling to fill.
Like I said, you can call it the result of poor planning. Reed gave us little reason to believe he'd be an asset this year, but I can't fault the team for attempting to extract some semblance of value from their $16 million investment. (I also credit them for quickly moving on as it became apparent he wasn't up to the task.) While Hildenberger was rough in the second half last year, he had been a lights-out high-leverage fireman before.
And Romero? This was the boldest and most audacious bet of them all – taking the best pitching prospect in the system, and fast-tracking him into a bullpen role where he could maximize his stuff and bolster a unit in need. But from the jump, this experiment was ill-fated.
Romero looked brutal in spring training, prompting the Twins to abandon their original plan and send him to the minors. The hope was he'd acclimate, gain confidence, and join the Minnesota bullpen in short order. This didn't happen.
After four appearances at Triple-A, the Twins recalled Romero. He stuck around for three weeks but looked ordinary. He went back down for a month, and returned to make a single appearance, facing the Mariners on June 13th. Romero started the eighth, gave up two hits and two walks without recording an out, and was returned to Rochester. He hasn't resurfaced since.
As we near the end of August, Reed is long gone. Hildenberger is on the rehab trail (and looking promising). Romero, meanwhile, is in limbo. Over the past two months back at Triple-A, he's been totally unremarkable, posting a 4.18 ERA and 1.71 WHIP in 28 innings while yielding a .261/.374/.342 slash line. To his credit he's limiting the big knocks (just one homer and six extra-base hits during this span) but his control continues to suffer, and he's not getting anywhere near the number of whiffs you look for from a big hard-thrower out of the pen.
This stall-out doesn't spell doom for Romero. Twins fans know better by now than to form definitive conclusions about a talented young player who hasn't yet turned 25. But unfortunately, patience is ceasing to be a luxury the team can afford. Next spring he'll be out of options, meaning Minnesota will need to either carry him out of camp or expose him to waivers (where he wouldn't make it far, I imagine).
One might say, "The reliever transition has failed, move him back to starter." Which sounds fine, except... they can't send him to Triple-A and have him readjust to that role. Does anyone feel comfortable with Romero (who by the way has never put together a complete season as a starter) in the Twins rotation right out of the gate next year? Is there any legitimate reason to think a guy who can't silence minor-league hitters as a reliever is suddenly going to be an effective MLB starter?
Romero's inexplicably sluggish performance this season leaves the Twins in a tough spot when it comes to planning for 2020 and beyond. The reason it's worth talking about now is that the front office faces a pivotal decision in the week ahead. Next Sunday, rosters will expand for September call-ups. One day later, Rochester plays its final game of the regular season.
Under normal circumstances (at least, normal for the past nine years), calling up Romero would essentially be a no-brainer. Development is the utmost concern, so you get him a few more opportunities and let him work with the big-league coaches, hopefully building some kind of confidence to carry forward.
But now? The Twins are in a tight division race. They can't afford to give innings to someone they can't trust. And if their handling of him this year makes one thing clear, it's that they don't trust Romero to pitch important innings for them right now.
Will be they be able to trust him to do so next year? They're running out of time, and chances, to inform that decision.
- lecroy24fan, brvama, Danchat and 7 others like this