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Bullpen Calculus

After yesterday’s crazy day at Fort Myers, today was considerably more serene. It also served as a deep breath before the last big push for several roster spots. Twins Manager Paul Molitor says he would like to get the roster set by this weekend, so the pressure to perform (or at least not mess up) is high. “It always is in spring training,” said Twins General Manager Terry Ryan. “Especially when you get to the last ten games or so.”
Image courtesy of Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
I’ve written a lot about the other spring training battles but have stayed away from the bullpen, partly because Nick Nelson covered it this weekend and partly because there were just so many options. But with recent demotions, the bullpen battles are becoming a little more clear – but not a lot more clear. There are just so many factors, and the biggest ones might not be the individual relievers' performance. It might be the performance of the guys trying out for the fifth starter job or whether or not the Twins can make a trade for a Rule 5 pick.

Here’s the breakdown:

There are seven spots. Four of them are essentially spoken for:
1. Glen Perkins has overcome his oblique strain, so he’s in.
2. Casey Fien is in and seems to have overcome whatever ailed him last September.
3. Brian Duensing was hit by a comebacker yesterday just over the knee on his thigh, but while he won’t pitch for a couple of days, he should have no problem being back for opening day.
4. Tim Stauffer has a major league contract, and while Terry Ryan stopped short of calling him an “absolute lock” in his pregame press conference, he did say he’ll be getting the “benefit of the doubt.” So he’s in.

That leaves three spots and they are largely dependent on what happens in the fifth spot in the rotation. At least one, and possibly, two, are spoken for. Mike Pelfrey, Tommy Milone and Trevor May are all competing for that last spot. Ryan confirmed that “is a fair assumption” that Pelfrey and Milone would end up in the bullpen if they don’t win the job, and oddly enough would not say that Trevor May would be sent to Rochester if he didn’t with the job, leaving the option open that he could be in the bullpen, too. However, that chance seems very remote.

Your guess is as good as mine regarding the fifth starter job. Everyone seems to be playing their cards very close to their vest. Prior to the postgame conference, I would have handicapped it like this:

Pelfrey 1:1
Milone 2:1
May 5:1

But I talked to at least one veteran sportswriter who thought Milone was still in the lead, and it also seemed like there was some confusion whether Pelfrey would get another start with the big league club. Whether that means he’s out of the running or they just don’t need to see any more is unknown. So again, take those odds with much more than a grain of salt. Like, maybe a shaker of salt.

Back to the bullpen. Whoever wins could have a major effect on the makeup of the bullpen. Let’s look at the scenarios.

What If Pelfrey Wins The Fifth Starter Spot?
5. Tommy Milone becomes the second (or third if you count Perkins) lefty in the bullpen.

That leaves two spots in the bullpen. My best guess is they are taken by the right-handers:
6. Blaine Boyer and
7. J.R. Graham

Missing out:
RHP Mark Hamburger
LHP Caleb Thielbar, Aaron Thompson

Boyer and Graham are mostly a guess, though they have had great camps. But so have all the guys that are still in camp, so either one could be replaced by Hamburger. It’s also possible that the Twins could decide to still take another left-hander, and Terry Ryan praised both Thielbar and Thompson’s spring earlier today. Ryan also said a few days ago he doesn’t feel strongly about how many left-handers or right-handers are in the bullpen.

What If Milone Wins The Fifth Starter Spot?
5. Mike Pelfrey becomes the third right-hander in the bullpen.

That leaves two spots in the bullpen. My best guess is they would want a right-hander and a left-hander, so let’s go with:
6. Caleb Thielbar and
7. J.R. Graham

Missing out:
RHP Mark Hamburger
LHP Blaine Boyer, Aaron Thompson

I’m in the minority in thinking that the Twins would choose Graham over Boyer. But since Graham is a Rule 5 pick and since Boyer isn’t on the 40-man roster, that’s the way I’m going. I should emphasize – Boyer has really impressed people.

If the Twins decide to keep Boyer and send Graham down in this scenario, they would either need to return him to the Braves or make a deal. In the past, the Twins have had some luck making deals with the Braves; that’s how they secured Scott Diamond. That happened very late in spring training that year, on the 28th of March. I’m optimistic that this could happen again.

As for the lefties, I don’t know if Thielbar is really in front of Thompson. I think Thielbar will get the benefit of the doubt given his time on the team the last few years. Then today, Thompson pitched before Thielbar did today and Thielbar did struggle a bit, giving up two hits and the winning run (though I think it should have been unearned).

However, Molitor emphasized that he didn’t mean to give them a “head-to-head” matchup; he just wasn’t able to use Thompson in the game yesterday, so he made sure he got him in the game today.

What If May Wins The Fifth Starter Spot?
5. Mike Pelfrey becomes the third right-hander in the bullpen.
6. Tommy Milone becomes the second lefty in the bullpen.

That leaves just one spot in the bullpen. My best guess is they would want a right-hander, so let’s go with:
7. Blaine Boyer

Missing out:
RHP Mark Hamburger, J.R. Graham
LHP Caleb Thielbar, Aaron Thompson

Looking at this, it seems that Trevor May is going to need to overcome even more than having an option to send him down and a limited spring training resume due to the flu. Putting him in the fifth spot also squeezes the bullpen that much more. (Oh, and the forecast for his start on Friday has a 90% chance of rain. What’s next? Locusts?)

If you want to distill things a little further, it feels like there will likely be two spots in the bullpen and three pitchers essentially competing for it: Boyer, Graham and Thielbar. The key factor might be if they can work a trade for Graham. If so, and May doesn’t win the fifth job, the logjam could be cleared.

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85 Comments

Nice description of this Rubik cube.  Since we have both Pelfrey and Stauffer clogging the pipe your summary is sound.  Take those two out as I would and it becomes more attractive and I think better, especially if May gets the spot as he should (more upside and talent).  Then we keep Graham and Hamburger, but most importantly, I hope the Twins do some trading.  There are some bullpens, like Toronto that could really put value on our extras.

    • Dave T likes this

 

 

 

As for the lefties, I don’t know if Thielbar is really in front of Thompson. I think Thielbar will get the benefit of the doubt given his time on the team the last few years. Then today, Thompson pitched before Thielbar did today and

 

Thielbar did struggle a bit, giving up two hits and the winning run (though I think it should have been unearned).

 

According to Gameday, it was a lot worse than that for T-Bar, he's recorded as having given up 3 hits and a BB in one inning pitched.  I don't know how hard he was hit, but it could be one more nail in the coffin for Caleb.  Plus, he has two options remaining, so it wouldn't be the end of the world if he goes back to Rochester.

 

I still say that they will make a trade with Atlanta to enable them to move Graham down, as well.  "More veterans!"

Tim Stauffer.......sounds like a scholarship to me.

    • Thrylos, Kevin, jokin and 3 others like this
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James Richter
Mar 25 2015 04:06 PM

If Milone & Pelfrey each pitch well in the coming days, they could be attractive to some of the teams that have lost pitchers to injury, particularly if those teams are just hoping to get through a couple months while higher-upside arms get a bit more development time. Barring a trade, though, I'm in favor of a scenario that avoids throwing away value - send the guys with options to the minors and keep the others on the 25-man. Quality depth at AAA is a very good thing.

 

If Milone & Pelfrey each pitch well in the coming days, they could be attractive to some of the teams that have lost pitchers to injury, particularly if those teams are just hoping to get through a couple months while higher-upside arms get a bit more development time. Barring a trade, though, I'm in favor of a scenario that avoids throwing away value - send the guys with options to the minors and keep the others on the 25-man. Quality depth at AAA is a very good thing.

 

Disagree. keep the best players up, and try to win. How long would you keep the better player down, for depth?

    • Sconnie likes this

There are already 2 lefties in the pen, so no need for a third, thus no need for Thielbar or Thompson.I think that both Graham and Boyer are ahead of them (as they should be)at this point.Also unlikely that either Milone or May will end up in the pen.They will be in a rotation.Twins' or Red Wings'.

    • birdwatcher likes this

 

There are already 2 lefties in the pen, so no need for a third, thus no need for Thielbar or Thompson.I think that both Graham and Doyle are ahead of them (as they should be)at this point.Also unlikely that either Milone or May will end up in the pen.They will be in a rotation.Twins' or Red Wings'.

 

Doyle?

Note that Milone has an option too.
    • stringer bell likes this
Not so sure the Braves would give us Graham in trade so easily -- Diamond was a much lower regarded prospect, who looked less ready/suited to an MLB bullpen.

And to get Diamond, we gave up a fairly high upside reliever in Bullock (who admittedly busted). I don't see Graham going for less.
    • birdwatcher and Bill Tanner like this

 

Doyle?

 

Boyer... 

 

Gee :)

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stringer bell
Mar 25 2015 05:30 PM

I thought Molitor was opposed to using starters in the bullpen.I guess keeping Pelf there rather than releasing him makes some sense, but with both Milone and May they have options.I certainly hope that the Twins don't clog up the bullpen with losers of the 5th starter competition.

I previously have said that I thought Thielbar was a lock, and he should be, but I don't think he is anymore...

 

Stauffer isn't a "scholarship" thing. He's a long-time veteran who is going to get the benefit of the doubt in spring training. It'd be like worrying about someone like Plouffe hitting .130 during the spring. It isn't a scholarship, it's a veteran thing.

 

I definitely think Milone is still the favorite for 5th starter, and that makes Pelfrey a reliever. I think they really like Graham, so I think he's almost a given... though I'm sure they would talk to the Braves about a trade... that said, there's no way he'd clear waivers, so I think that (again) makes him a given.

 

I think they like Boyer too and don't want to lose him. So, that's why Thielbar, who has gotten the job done in the big leagues for two years, could go to Rochester. 

    • luckylager likes this
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ashburyjohn
Mar 25 2015 07:23 PM

I do not understand the enthusiasm for Boyer. Did the Twins teach him an illegal pitch that they think will be key to his success? :) His resume does not suggest he's worth thinking about. If they are basing decisions in any way on his spring numbers, note that the Small Sample Size leading to a good ERA also involves an unsustainable BABIP of .179. He can not help but get worse.

 

The last word I had seen was that the Braves were completely averse to a trade that would let us stash Graham in the minors. Maybe that has changed.

 

Losing Graham in order to keep Boyer would be galling.

    • birdwatcher and Thrylos like this

 

I do not understand the enthusiasm for Boyer. Did the Twins teach him an illegal pitch that they think will be key to his success? :) His resume does not suggest he's worth thinking about.

 

It's the red hair they like. Not the Twins, but while in Japan, he really got a hold of a slider that became pretty effective and has been a good pitch for him.Add that to 3 more pitches (FB, slow CB and CH) and he does have quite an arsenal.But he is 33.On the other hand, he is better than Guerrier/Deduno/&Co were last season.   

 

I don't think that he is competing with Graham.I want to believe that Graham has a spot already.He is competing with the likes of Thielbar and the second loser (if has options) of the 5th rotation spot battle.

 

I previously have said that I thought Thielbar was a lock, and he should be, but I don't think he is anymore...

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the dark side, Seth.  I've been saying since the season ended in 2014, that there have to be upgrades considered for at least half of just about the worst pen in baseball. Caleb has been a great story, but he was at the top of the list (behind Burton) of guys with targets on their foreheads- not improving year over year, plus not really providing enough lefty/righty advantages, and even further confirmed with a lackluster ST so far.

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stringer bell
Mar 25 2015 08:08 PM

One starting pitcher loser in the bullpen is plenty, maybe too much.Get real bullpen guys in the bullpen.

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Old Twins Cap
Mar 25 2015 08:23 PM

Who cares who starts the season in the bullpen?The Twins should be smart and try to showcase a Milone in AAA or a Pelfrey in MLB and work on a trade that nets a AA prospect, preferably for Pelfrey, since he has the larger contract. 

 

The Twins have May and Meyer lurking, with upside, and plenty of prospects for the Pen.Build some value in the veteran pitchers, in whatever fashion possible, then move them for a low-level prospect, save some payroll and improve the rotation and bullpen all in one swoop.

    • birdwatcher likes this
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John Bonnes
Mar 25 2015 09:02 PM
I had forgotten that Milone has an option. If I can, I'll ask some folks about that tomorrow. I'll say that Terry Ryan said that it was a safe assumption that Milone would be on the roster if he doesn't start. He aso said that at some folks were going to need to perform now at the end of spring training when they were under the most pressure, and he could very well have been talking about Milone.

I wouldn't judge Stauffer too much on his attempts to be s starter. I think we'll see him in tomorrow's game. Let's see what he looks like as a reliever.
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birdwatcher
Mar 25 2015 09:41 PM

 

Tim Stauffer.......sounds like a scholarship to me.

Mauer's batting .200. A scholarship for him too? That darn Ryan. ;)

 


I wouldn't judge Stauffer too much on his attempts to be s starter. I think we'll see him in tomorrow's game. Let's see what he looks like as a reliever.

 

I'll be anxious to hear your report- increased velocity, types of pitches thrown, etc.  Since the announcement was made that he was out of the running for the 5th spot, he's done well in two short relief appearances.

 

Mauer's batting .200. A scholarship for him too? That darn Ryan. ;)

 

Talk about apples and kumquats...

 

Tim Stauffer.......sounds like a scholarship to me.

 

I think it's a bit early to give up on Stauffer.  He's a somewhat proven commodity, he actually has a bit of upside, and oh yeah, we haven't played a single game yet.  I'm guessing we'll have to use a number of guys this year as arms become tired, go through slumps, get hot, etc.  Having guys in AAA with options isn't a bad thing.

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James Richter
Mar 25 2015 10:52 PM

 

Disagree. keep the best players up, and try to win. How long would you keep the better player down, for depth?

If everybody's performing well, who's the best player? Best stuff? Career numbers? Hottest spring?

 

I'd love to see May in the rotation because I think he can ultimately outperform Pelfrey and Milone. But if stashing him in the minors for a few weeks enables them to avoid throwing away somebody like Graham, that might be better for the team in the long run.

    • adorduan likes this
For those looking to trade the 5th starter roulette loser(s), what are you hoping to get back? IMO the return would be ... Underwhelming. The Twins picked Milone up last year for a 4th OF and Pelfrey has pitched 1 year of the last 3 (and wasn't a good starter to begin with).

I think bringing either Stauffer or Boyer north would be a mistake. Neither contribute anything to the future and for a rebuilding club like the Twins that's what matters. I'd rather they had traded for a young failed starter and moved him to the pen hoping he could revive his career... or gone with some of their young fireballers that might not be completely ready... or signed a really good reliever. Pretty much I would have gone any direction other than bringing north a group of low strike-out, low upside, 30-something's. Ugh....

Umm . . . Stauffer had 9.4 K/9 last season (8.6 and 9.0 in 2013 and 2012), which trailed only Glen Perkins (9.6) among Twins relievers.

 

For those looking to trade the 5th starter roulette loser(s), what are you hoping to get back? IMO the return would be ... Underwhelming. The Twins picked Milone up last year for a 4th OF and Pelfrey has pitched 1 year of the last 3 (and wasn't a good starter to begin with).

I think bringing either Stauffer or Boyer north would be a mistake. Neither contribute anything to the future and for a rebuilding club like the Twins that's what matters. I'd rather they had traded for a young failed starter and moved him to the pen hoping he could revive his career... or gone with some of their young fireballers that might not be completely ready... or signed a really good reliever. Pretty much I would have gone any direction other than bringing north a group of low strike-out, low upside, 30-something's. Ugh....

 


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