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Who Will Be Pitching Staff's Odd Man Out?

Paul Molitor wasn't thrilled to be handed a 13-man pitching staff and three-man bench on Opening Day. Despite the team's success in these first seven games, he isn't feeling much better about it now.

The manager has already been hamstrung on multiple occasions, including the end of a Tuesday loss which left him sounding a little exasperated.

Something needs to change soon. That means the Twins have a tough decision to make.
Image courtesy of Kim Klement, USA Today
Operating with just three position backups, all of whom are more or less defensive specialists, has limited Molitor's ability to tweak and plug into the lineup.

When he wanted to give DH Robbie Grossman a day off Saturday, the uninspiring replacement was utility infielder Eduardo Escobar.

On Tuesday, when Molitor opted to sit first baseman Joe Mauer and right fielder Max Kepler against a left-hander, the fill-ins at two premium offensive positions were Chris Gimenez and Danny Santana – the two worst bats on the roster. Late in the game, the manager was unable to pinch-run for Jason Castro, standing on second as the tying run, because Joe Mauer had just singled him there after pinch-hitting for Castro's backup.

Meanwhile, the extra arms have yielded Molitor no benefit. Sure, Twins starters have surprisingly pitched deep into most games, but the eight-man bullpen would be extreme overkill regardless. In the first eight days of the season, Justin Haley, Tyler Duffey and Michael Tonkin got into games twice apiece. Craig Breslow recorded one single out.

In theory, the roster that Minnesota opened this season with was palatable for a brief period. In practice, it's a joke. The front office must realize that it's unfair and, frankly, ill-advised to keep this competitive handicap in play. Molitor emphasized at the conclusion of camp his belief that the unideal initial setup was "short-term." He is no doubt ready to move on and restore some balance.

The Twins have a few different options for doing so. The easy choice is calling up Kennys Vargas. He's healthy and made his fourth straight start in Rochester on Tuesday, slugging his first home run.

Choosing a pitcher to remove from the bullpen, which has been stunningly effective in the early going, is less easy.

We know the late-inning core of Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Pressly, Matt Belisle and Taylor Rogers will remain intact. After that, it gets a little trickier.

Rule 5 pick Justin Haley has more or less proven his worth, with a clean one-inning debut followed by a long relief outing in Chicago that was going swimmingly through three innings before a pair of homers knocked him out. He seems safe.

Tyler Duffey is the obvious pick if the team still views him as a starter. He could go to Triple-A, get stretched out and be ready to step into the rotation when needed. But are they still viewing him that way? Should they?

Though he was framed as a swingman coming out of camp, Duffey's usage has not been reflective of such. Instead, he's been a high-leverage crutch for Molitor. And unsurprisingly, the righty has looked excellent in short bursts, flashing the stuff of a legit setup man. Why mess with that after he put up a 6.43 ERA in the Twins rotation last year?

If Duffey will indeed accompany Pressly and Belisle as a late-inning weapon, it sort of marginalizes Michael Tonkin, who currently appears to have no real purpose on the roster. His two appearances have come in the two losses, both with the team down multiple runs. Once again, he is being used as a mop-up man, a role that suits him poorly.

It's not evident from the first handful of games that he's gained any additional trust from Molitor. Then again, the Twins went out of their way to keep Tonkin out of spring, and he hasn't really done anything to lose favor on his end.

Then there's Craig Breslow. He's made one appearance, relieving Kyle Gibson in the third game against the Royals. Molitor pulled him after three batters, and didn't turn to the veteran lefty in any of the next four contests.

In his lone outing, Breslow threw only four of 11 pitches for strikes. In spring training, he walked seven over nine innings. The reinvented southpaw might have impressive spin and movement on his pitches, but there's no evidence he can command them. Clearly he doesn't have the manager's faith.

So it seems there are three options at play if the Twins want to add a bat in short order. They can send out Duffey and get him back on a starting regimen in Rochester. They can expose Tonkin to waivers with hopes he'll have better odds of passing through now than at the end of spring. Or they can pull the plug on Breslow, whom they just handed a 40-man roster spot, after one outing.

I'm not sure what the best option is, though I'd probably lean toward Breslow. I do know that the Twins need to cut down on pitchers and bulk up their bench, and I'm guessing everyone reading this will agree. What's your move?

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I've not read anything which suggests Duffey's two pitches are good enough for him to start effectively, or that he's developed a third pitch which can augment the two he has to bring that about, in which case . . . . what, really, is his value?


Based on what you've laid out, though - Breslow.   


If you need a 12 man staff, that is ..... didn't teams used to go with 10?

    • bighat likes this

i'd hate to lose Tonkin without seeing what he could do when used properly. but if Molitor refuses to use him any other way, whats the point of keeping him around?


i was a firm believer in Duffey as a starter, but i'm afraid that ship has sailed. i think his curveball can work well out of the pen though so i'd keep him there.


personally, i'd probably DFA Breslow and if he doesn't catch on anywhere offer him a job in the analytics department

    • Mike Sixel, curt1965 and d-mac like this
Tom Froemming
Apr 11 2017 09:26 PM

I'd send Duffey down to get him stretched out. If extra bullpen arms are needed eventually, there are a host of other guys should be able to step in and contribute in the middle innings. There are very few Plan B guys for the rotation right now.


Berrios sticks out, for sure, but I think teams use an average of something like 10 starters a season. The only other minor league SPs on the 40 man right now are Felix Jorge and Fernando Romero. Other options are guys like Nick Tepesch, Jason Wheeler, Paul Clemens and David Hurlbut. 

    • Riverbrian, Oxtung, 70charger and 3 others like this

Why not use an 11-man staff for a stretch?  The starting pitching has fully met team expectations invalidating the need for this excess of pitchers.  11-man staffs are not "short", they used be considered "standard" or even "generous"?

    • Lonestar likes this

For me, Breslow is the choice.


I was telling Nick that I had done a bunch of research on this topic. I looked at all 30 MLB Rosters and was surprised to see that EIGHT teams have 13 pitchers as of tonight. More surprising, four of those teams are in the National League where there are pinch hitters much more often than in the American League. 


Some of the teams are more obvious than others.


AL: Twins, Astros, A's, Mariners.

NL: Mets, Marlins, Reds, Rockies.


I didn't realize that going to 8-man bullpens had become more and more prevalent. I think that's a new thing.


As for the player to come up... With Byungho Park going on the DL, Vargas is really the only good choice right now, not that that is a great  choice either.

    • jimbo92107, Sconnie and hybridbear like this
Old Twins Cap
Apr 11 2017 09:30 PM

Could not agree more.


I looked at the Twins' lineup today against a lefty in Detroit.With Mauer and Kepler out, and Buxton unavailable to hit (sic), there just was not a path to score runs.


So, they didn't.


And, in the crunch, there was no one to put in or pinch hit, to put pressure on Detroit's fairly mediocre bullpen.


So they lost.


And that could go on and on and on and on, unless they get some RH pop.

    • Jerr likes this

I would leave Duffy in the pen for now and the future.  He has the setup to be a great bullpen guy, he has mainly 2 pitches and can strike guys out at a high rate, but second time around lineup seems to be more on the curve against him.  He was also a closer in college so nothing new to him.  Also, where does he rank in pitching as a starter, most likely 7th right now, and several prospects a year to two away it is likely he would drop down that list.


To me that leaves Tonkin, and Breslow.  Breslow seems to be here as a vet to get out lefties mainly.  Tonkin has never impressed me and does not seem to be impressing Molitor either.  I would keep Breslow for now else Rogers may get overused out of the pen, unless another lefty can be found to add later on for one of the many right handed guys in the pen, like Tonkin.  Also, if Breslow can show that his new delivery can be effective against lefties he could draw some trade interest where I see no interest in Tonkin, sure would not be much in return but if can maybe get something that is better than nothing. 

    • bighat likes this
Deduno Abides
Apr 11 2017 09:48 PM
Haley: when the manager runs him out for multiple innings, he's waiting for him to show he's not ready. But then he has surprising success! Well, that can't do, so Molitor leaves him out there, thinking, "Let's see how he does when they can see him a second time." Then, when he gives up one homer, Molitor says to himself, "Not yet. Wait for the opportune moment." Then, when he gives up a homer to the next batter, Molitor says to himself, "That'll do."

Now he's wondering what else he needs to do to get Haley off his team, so he reverts to the tried and true Twins method - overt or hinted griping to the media.
    • Sconnie and bighat like this
Bark's Lounge
Apr 11 2017 10:05 PM


When he wanted to give DH Robbie Grossman a day off Saturday, the uninspiring replacement was utility infielder Eduardo Escobar.

I have to be honest. Escobar is more inspiring than Grossman. Escobar is is a proven commodity, Grossman had one good season. Sure he BB's a little bit more, but Escobar is a more proven hitter and defensive player at crucial positions. This post is not a shot at Grossman FWIW.


Escobar is a good player. Why do we forget that he is one of the better Utility Infielders in the game?


I will never see how he is a downgrade from Grossman. Escobar is more valuable to this team.

    • luckylager, Mike Sixel, diehardtwinsfan and 10 others like this

Tonkin and Breslow are both replacement level at best.  Tonkin can't be used in a meaningful innings without runners doing the conga on him and he's HR prone. Breslow is cooked. I could care less which one they get rid of. Just get Park or Vargas up here ASAP. 

    • bdodge22 likes this
It bothers me our new front office couldn't see this a week ago. One of Haley, Breslow, or Tonkin should be gone immediately. I'd jettison Breslow. Leave Duffey in the pen where he has always belonged. Get Vargas here.

And while we're at it, find a useful player to take the wasted spot of Danny Santana. It felt like he was in the lineup today only because Molitor has to "work guys in." He offers nothing. It should have been Park out of spring training, but if not him (I know he's got a hamstring thing right now), then go get a RH hitting OF option. Particularly since the guy who should be the RH fourth outfielder can't play OF and is somehow needed to DH.
    • Jerr, Mike Sixel, TheLeviathan and 6 others like this

Is the reason we all say keep Tonkin only because we're worried about him becoming good once be leaves the Twins?

    • DJL44, hybridbear, Deduno Abides and 4 others like this
Apr 11 2017 10:36 PM

I want to see how Duffey does in this relief role so I'd leave him there.


I'd let Breslow go. The different arm slot might work, but he hasn't been good in years.

stringer bell
Apr 11 2017 10:38 PM

I'd DFA Tonkin. He had a whole season last year and showed flashes, but was unreliable. Eventually, I think Bresow should be replaced, too.

    • Vanimal46 and bighat like this
Apr 11 2017 10:38 PM


Haley: when the manager runs him out for multiple innings, he's waiting for him to show he's not ready. But then he has surprising success! Well, that can't do, so Molitor leaves him out there, thinking, "Let's see how he does when they can see him a second time." Then, when he gives up one homer, Molitor says to himself, "Not yet. Wait for the opportune moment." Then, when he gives up a homer to the next batter, Molitor says to himself, "That'll do."

Now he's wondering what else he needs to do to get Haley off his team, so he reverts to the tried and true Twins method - overt or hinted griping to the media.

I doubt he was hinting at Haley. He is the long reliever on this team, so he's going to pitch multiple innings at a time in situations like the one on Saturday.

    • d-mac and bighat like this
Apr 12 2017 12:38 AM
Breslow is the clear guy out for me. A LHP who hasn't been good against lefties for the last few seasons brings little value going forward. I was surprised he made the team to start the season, and Molitor's decision to only go to him once so far tells me it wasn't his choice. Breslow's 40 man spot could be used for Park once/if he gets healthy or anyone who has more value on the field than a old arm veteran pitcher.
    • bighat likes this
Apr 12 2017 12:48 AM

Honest question: Was the 13 man staff entirely thrust on Molitor, or are the Twins carrying 13 pitchers as a result of stubbornness from both the manger and the FO in regards to letting go of a pitcher they value differently?


Also, what is with the not so subtle dig at Escobar? I'm content with him as the utility infielder.

    • rghrbek, Vanimal46, d-mac and 1 other like this
Apr 12 2017 02:36 AM

Don't teams typically start a new season with extra SP's?The theory being, SP's aren't stretched out enough yet.My theory is:if you have a job that starts at a specific date, you should already be prepared for that job, that time, that date.Silly me.....

I wasn't surprised they have a long pitching staff, they always seemed to in the past also. And yes they could have came north with one less relief pitcher, with the extra days off and got away with it. I still think that as much as I prefer 12 RP that ship may have sailed. Pitch counts and more situational pitching moves need more pitchers. And remember, with the exception of E Santana the SP is still less than a sure thing. There's a little smoke and mirrors in a staff without a legit #1, or even a good #2.
Breslow has to go. He was a safety net signing, in the case our bullpen was a complete disaster. You can't expose Tonkin to waivers now, we need him long term. Breslow doesn't fit into the Twins long term plans.
    • Oldgoat_MN and bighat like this
I also like to look at career stats. Breslow has been pretty horrible for the better part of his career. Tonkin has been average, with flashes of brilliance, swing and miss stuff, and some upside. Winner, Tonkin. Sorry Breslow.
    • Oldgoat_MN likes this
We can't let go of Haley, because we'll automatically go back to the team we got him from, correct? Doesn't he have to stay on the roster in order to keep him?

It's really only a matter of time for Breslow and Tonkin.  Does it really matter which one stays a little longer? I'd say Duffy is next in line for closing at this point, but as Tom Points out, beyond Berrios, there aren't any SP options on the 40 man.  


I'm starting to be intrigued by Niko Goodrum.  He can play a lot of positions and hit a little.  Sounds kind of familiar, but at least he's a fresh face.

    • Steve Lein, Tom Froemming, bighat and 1 other like this
Tonkin is my choice to go. He's been the low man on the depth chart for over a year now. Molitor doesn't trust him pitching anything other than low leverage innings.

I'd vote for Breslow,maybe he clears waivers or maybe he doesn't or he could elect FA.At the current time this seems best as Molitor does not trust him.

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