Matt Shoemaker Lengthens Twins' Bench, as Well as Rotation
Image courtesy of © Adam Hagy-USA TODAY SportsIf everyone is healthy when the Twins break camp in late March, their starting rotation will include Kenta Maeda, José Berríos, Michael Pineda, J.A. Happ, and Shoemaker. It will exclude Randy Dobnak, as well as Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe. All three of those pitchers could very well make starts for the 2021 Twins, but each is also capable of helping them in long relief. Most importantly, for the purposes of this conversation, they can also help the team by not being on it at certain points, because they all can be optioned to the minor leagues.
Optioning pitchers to the minors to keep a sufficient number of fresh arms on the active big-league roster will be a constant juggling act this season, even more than in the last few. All offseason, optionable pitchers have had slight premiums attached to them in the market for talent. It’s one reason why the Twins had to give up LaMonte Wade, Jr. in order to get Shaun Anderson. Wade is a better player than Anderson, but Anderson has options, and the Twins gained flexibility and security by acquiring him, in addition to getting a live-armed pitcher they hope to develop into a weapon.
With the volume Dobnak, Smeltzer, and Thorpe can provide in relief, and with the ability to send any of them to the minors if needed, the Twins can get by with an eight-man bullpen. In addition to those three and Anderson, Minnesota has the ability to option Cody Stashak, Caleb Thielbar, and Jorge Alcala when needed. They will begin the season, given full health, with Edwar Colina, Jhoan Duran, Dakota Chalmers, Bailey Ober, and Jordan Balazovic all stashed in the minor leagues, but each is already on the 40-man roster and could be called up, then optioned. Should Glenn Sparkman, Brandon Waddell, Ian Gibaut, or Ian Hamilton make their way back onto the 40-man, they, too, could subsequently be optioned.
Don’t underestimate the advantage of which the Twins have assured themselves here. Every team has spent the winter trying to amass quality depth while staying flexible, and few (if any) can claim to have struck the balance as well as Minnesota has. Signing Shoemaker sealed the deal, because it converts so many potential innings from Dobnak and Smeltzer from starter to reliever work, and lessens any pressure to keep them on the roster after a long outing.
In light of that, it would be foolish for the team to forfeit their edge by carrying 14 pitchers for any meaningful period of time. They should be able to roster nine starting players (we’ll include, for now, Alex Kirilloff, as the left fielder), plus backup catcher Ryan Jeffers, utility man Luis Arraez, fourth outfielder Jake Cave, and right-handed bench bat Brent Rooker. Squeezing down to 12 available hitters, when they’ve so assiduously assembled a pitching staff that renders that unnecessary, would be wasteful. Injuries could force the issue, of course. In fact, they’re likely to do so, at some stage. Only a total catastrophe should make a 14-man staff even a semi-permanent state of affairs, though.
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