The Twins Bullpen Is Set (And You’re Not Going To Love It)
Image courtesy of © Denny Medley-USA TODAY SportsFree agent signee Matt Belisle will be one of the right-handed setup men. He is 36 years old and this is his fourth team in the last four years. His strikeout rate last year was 6.8 K/9. He and Kintzler have been effective, but It is safe to posit that on many teams, they would be trusted to be seventh inning setup men, at best. Indeed, that was their role on their teams the year before they joined the Twins.
The other right-handed setup men have a little more upside, but fewer results. Ryan Pressly is 28 years old and put up an average strikeout rate (8.0 K/9) and showed added velocity during spring training. Michael Tonkin is even younger (27 years old) and had an even higher strikeout rate (10.0 K/9), but was homer-prone last year (13 HR in 71.1 IP) and again in spring training (3 HR in 12.1 IP). He had a poor spring training and it is likely that being out of options (which means the Twins could lose him if he didn’t make the roster) is why he made the roster.
The left-handed relievers have a similar "veteran/youngster" profile as the right-handers. The veteran is Craig Breslow, a 36-year-old who the Twins signed on a minor-league deal this offseason. The “youngster” is 26-year-old Taylor Rogers who is truly tough on lefties (547 OPS against in 2016) but is unlikely to expand that role due to his troubles against right-handed hitters (811 OPS against in 2016).
Finally, the swingman will be 25-year-old Justin Haley, who is also likely on the roster due to his status as a Rule 5 pick. If he did not make the roster, the Twins would need to return him to the Red Sox.
It’s not difficult to justify each of these players having a spot in a major league bullpen. And with the exception of the decision to demote JT Chargois, it’s probably the best group that could come north with the team. But this is a group of back-of-the-bullpen talents, some of which are going to be saddled with high-leverage bullpen roles.
Twins manager Paul Molitor seems to understand this. “I think we’re going to have to do some mixing and matching towards the end,” said Molitor last week, “with Kintzler on the backside, so, we’ll see how it goes.”
There is a scenario where this bullpen is successful. “My hope is that between the experience and the talent - some still developing - that it’s going to be better,” said Molitor. But there are a lot of scenarios where the opposite is true and the lack of tools that are at Molitor’s discretion is an organizational problem.
The one thing a bad team should be able to do is find good relief arms; they have all the advantages in that area. They have the first pick in waivers. They have innings to invest. They have opportunities for under-the-radar free agents. They have higher draft picks. They can trade veterans for younger, still developing arms. The advantages go on and on. That the Twins have utterly failed in this area after six years of futility is the most damning indictment of the Terry Ryan front office.
But just so we’re clear, the new leadership has not garnered immediate results either. The biggest change so far is adding the journeyman reliever Belisle. There were no obvious diamonds in the rough discovered in spring training this year that provide hope that 2017 will be any better than the previous six years.
We'll see how it goes. The tension that Twins fans will feel at the end of ballgames is, for now, the same as the tension fans of the other 29 teams feel as their bullpen tries to nail down a win. But the feeling today - of skepticism after six years of cringing - is uniquely their own.
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