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Article: Report From The Fort: The Fifth Starter's Road Is Long

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#1 John Bonnes

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Posted 03 March 2018 - 02:59 PM

FT MYERS - Today Twins manager Paul Molitor reaffirmed his plan is to only have four pitchers designated as starting pitchers when the Twins break training camp. This means the decision regarding a fifth starter may not happen until April.

The Twins won't need a fifth starting pitcher until April 11th, almost two weeks into the 2018 season. What’s more, the second start would not come until almost two weeks later, on April 24. That happens during a 19-game stretch where the Twins would need a fifth starter three times. But then they don’t need a fifth starter again until late in May on the 22nd, when starter Ervin Santana should be back in the rotation. And all of that is assuming the Twins have no rainouts or postponed games, which could help even more.It’s also an open question whether the fifth starter would be better served being the eighth guy in the bullpen or starting the season in Rochester. For that matter, given how often new Twins management utilized the waiver wire last year, it wouldn’t be inconceivable that they grab someone from another organization to pitch the April 11th game or give someone a three-start tryout during the 19-game stretch.

A linchpin in that decision might be Phil Hughes, or rather Hughes and his remaining two-year $27 million contract. The new management team didn’t offer that extension to Hughes, and thus might be able to view it more objectively. But objectively, it’s still $27 million out the door, unless they can get some results from it, or have Hughes develop enough value to move at least a portion of it.

Hughes would probably like that too, but that’s easier said than done. After two years of dismal results and unresolved shoulder issues, Hughes is trying to find his way into the rotation’s mix. He’s likely on the outside looking in for one of the top four spots. But he has to be considered a contender, and maybe even the favorite, for the fifth spot until Santana rejoins the rotation.

It isn’t totally clear that Hughes will ever be able to return back to a major-league caliber starting pitcher, partly because we don’t know if he’ll ever be healthy enough to be a major-league caliber starting pitcher. Hughes said last week that he wasn’t sure of that himself. “I’m going to have to get towards that 100-pitch mark to really have an idea,” he admitted.

He’s nowhere near that limit now, but he felt good in his second start of the season yesterday, even noting that he got loose easily in warmups. “It’s something I don’t even think about anymore,” he said after Saturday’s game. “So that’s a good thing. My main focus has been executing pitches, and not thinking about anything arm-related or anything like that. That’s been a good thing, because we have enough to worry about. Baseball is a pretty hard game without having to take your health and everything else into account.”

However, even if he is healthy, he need to win the fifth starter job, which means he likely starts the season in the bullpen. And if he doesn’t, the Twins would probably like him to start the season in the bullpen too. They can’t send him to the AAA Rochester club to wait his turn, unless he is still hurt and on a rehab assignment. So either way, Hughes' most likely path (provided he stays with Minnesota) has him spending some time in the bullpen.

He says he hasn’t spent any time considering that. “To be honest, I haven’t really given it any thought,” Hughes claims. “My one and only focus this spring has been on the rubber to the plate. That’s all I’ve been focused on. I haven’t really gone into our schedule all that deep. I’m just trying to make sure I’m healthy and improving and showing good stuff while I’m out there. So I can’t really give you an answer on that.”

A generous soul might call that focus commendable. A cynic might call it willfully obtuse. I’ll call it doing whatever it takes to regain the ability and confidence to get another season in the sun. But Phil Hughes 'road back to the rotation likely goes through the bullpen, and it will likely be a longer road than to just Opening Day.

Saturday's Game
The Twins lost 13-8 on the road versus the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon. The score reflects the wind conditions more than the quality of the pitching as it was a windy day blowing straight out from home plate to center field. Molitor, who of course played with the Blue Jays for three years, summed it up: "I’ve played in this park long enough to know that when the prevailing wind is to right center, the ball is going to find its way over the fence a few times.”

The game featured a lineup of mostly probable bench and non-roster players at Dunedin, where the Blue Jays train and is about a 3-hour drive from Fort Myers. The most likely to make the Twins roster included Zach Granite, Edire Adrianza, Eduardo Escobar, Ryan Pressly and Hughes.

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#2 Rosterman

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Posted 03 March 2018 - 03:28 PM

Hughes pitched poorly inhis latest start. Maybe he glared at the umpire on his way to the dugout, and it was windy, but that didn't account for some of the pitchers who did just fine against the B-squad, so to speak.

At some point, you MUST cut and run. It's a big chunk of change to swallow. But you are losing even more if the production, for your team, doesn't happen.
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#3 Thrylos

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Posted 03 March 2018 - 03:46 PM

That 4-men rotation plus a swingman was state of the art in the 1980s.With the unbalanced schedule now does not make too much sense because of the high likelihood of games suspended due to weather, doubleheaders etc.

 

He might want to do it, but I think that it just is not practical.

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#4 Mike Sixel

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Posted 03 March 2018 - 03:46 PM

That money is spent if he is in Minnesota or not. For a million more, they can have guys with options on the roster.. .
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It's been a fun year so far, GO Twins. 


#5 kab21

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Posted 03 March 2018 - 04:52 PM

Why isn't the #4 spot in the rotation up for discussion? Hughes has the inside track on that spot

Odorizzi

Berrios

Gibson

#4 = ?

Right now Hughes and his contract is the favorite for the 4th starter spot and Anibal is probably the second favorite since I don't think he needs to accept a minor league assignment (can someone verify) even though he has a defined split contract. If both of these options implode for spring training then Mejia should take that spot. He might even take that spot outright if he looks great but typically pitchers without options are given every opportunity to win a spot at the beginning of the season.

If Hughes or Sanchez end up at the #4 and the other is cut or DL'd then I would expect the Twins to option Mejia in favor of a true RP until they bring him up as the #5 later in the month.

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Is 2016 2017 2018 the year that a good pitching prospect is truly blocked by 5 good pitchers in the starting rotation? 

Offseason (noun) - a time to propose trades assuming opposing GM's can't do the same basic analysis


#6 Sconnie

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Posted 03 March 2018 - 04:53 PM

That money is spent if he is in Minnesota or not. For a million more, they can have guys with options on the roster.. .

very true, and agreed, but that won’t stop Levine from trying to get value out of Hughes

#7 yarnivek1972

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Posted 03 March 2018 - 05:22 PM

Depends on who is in the bullpen. If one or two of those guys can be a spot starter (perhaps Tyler Duffy for example), yes I think 4 starters would be fine until the 19 game stretch.

#8 spycake

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Posted 03 March 2018 - 06:09 PM

Anibal is probably the second favorite since I don't think he needs to accept a minor league assignment (can someone verify) even though he has a defined split contract.


It's not clear. A split contract would sort of imply he would consent to a minor league assignment, but you are right, he has enough service time to refuse an optional or outright assignment. But Berardino also reported it less like a split, and more like an arbitration deal that guarantees him some termination pay if he's cut during spring training.

Then again, he did consent to a minor league assignment with the Tigers last year (it's actually reported that he asked for it, although perhaps only because the alternative was bullpen or release) -- maybe that's an option this year as well? Maybe he is confident that the 40-man spot will lead him back to MLB? Although one might think he would rather have a minor league deal with opt out dates...

#9 Old Twins Cap

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Posted 03 March 2018 - 06:56 PM

 

Hughes is an extreme fly-ball pitcher in an extreme fly-ball business, with declining velocity, straight-line fastball and marginal breaking stuff.

 

He's been injured, and injured again, thoracically surgeried, and at whatever age, is attempting a come-back.

 

Good on him.

 

We can go over a lot of numbers, but everything is pointing against his future sustainable success as a MLB starting pitcher.

 

Pretty much everything -- except not pitching in Yankee Stadium, where, a reach, a broken bat, a pop-up, can carry out to RF.

 

Hughes ain't going to carry you through the playoffs and into the World Series.

 

Ever.

 

So, there's that.


#10 spycake

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Posted 03 March 2018 - 07:14 PM

The Fifth Starter's Road Is Long


"He ain't heavy, he's my fifth starter..."

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#11 DocBauer

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Posted 03 March 2018 - 07:20 PM

Molitor talks about the 4 man rotation initially, and maybe it plays out. Just not sure I see it as being practical, or necessary, unless you just don't think you have a 5th starter who is ready, or who you trust, to begin the year. Of course, with options, you could play musical chairs the first few weeks and keep an extra RP, then pull up someone for a spot start...lets just say Slegers...and then send him back down again and bring up another bullpen arm again.

But the rather obvious elephant in the room is Hughes, and to a much lesser extent, Sanchez. Both would be great stories. But I have major doubts about Sanchez sticking. He actually requested AAA time last season to work in his game, and could opt that way again, but it also stakes away a spot from a prospect ready for Rochester. Hughes would be an even better story, but remains a real long shot. And this front office is not attached to his contract and sunk cost the way the previous administration was.

This team is just so much better, long term, giving the 4th spot to Mejia! Now, he has to perform, of course. But there's some real talent to work with. Holding on to a questionable rehab vs a promising young starter just makes no sense.

Now, if they are just determined to give Hughes some more time, then go with the 5 man staff. Could your pen get tired if he just blows up? Possibly. (Though there is the proverbial Rochester shuttle). But with a couple early days off here and there, and at least one inevitable postponment, that shouldn't be an issue.

My best guess? Days off, speculated postponment, they will end up with a 5 man staff that includes Mejia and one of Hughes or Sanchez, probably Hughes. Gives him 3 or 4 starts for the FO to make a final decision.

Wildcard? Mejia and Slegers both open in a 5 man staff until Santana comes back and Hughes and Sanchez are both gone, one way or another.
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#12 kab21

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Posted 03 March 2018 - 09:03 PM

 

It's not clear. A split contract would sort of imply he would consent to a minor league assignment, but you are right, he has enough service time to refuse an optional or outright assignment. But Berardino also reported it less like a split, and more like an arbitration deal that guarantees him some termination pay if he's cut during spring training.

Then again, he did consent to a minor league assignment with the Tigers last year (it's actually reported that he asked for it, although perhaps only because the alternative was bullpen or release) -- maybe that's an option this year as well? Maybe he is confident that the 40-man spot will lead him back to MLB? Although one might think he would rather have a minor league deal with opt out dates...

But having to get consent to send them down a pitcher vs a player that has options (Mejia) is a big advantage to a guy like Sanchez. Hopefully it is only used for a tiebreaker but I think it is likely that Hughes or Sanchez get every chance to take the #4 and (eventual) #5 spots.

Is 2016 2017 2018 the year that a good pitching prospect is truly blocked by 5 good pitchers in the starting rotation? 

Offseason (noun) - a time to propose trades assuming opposing GM's can't do the same basic analysis


#13 Seth Stohs

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Posted 03 March 2018 - 09:15 PM

If he's not where he needs to be by Opening Day, you DL him... keep him on a program and get him a rehab assignment. I mean, at the end of the day, he is coming off of his 2nd TOS surgery in two years. Shouldn't expect him to be at 100% right now. How he did today means nothing. But obviously the velo will need to work itself up. So, let spring training run its course. Use the DL. Use the rehab time. See where he's at, and make the call at some point. 

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#14 Twodogs

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Posted 03 March 2018 - 09:18 PM

I know it's a giant pipe dream, but could you imagine if Hughes was able to put it together for a few months this year like back in 2014?? That would be a great story and it would be really cool for the team

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#15 Brock Beauchamp

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Posted 04 March 2018 - 06:09 AM

 

But having to get consent to send them down a pitcher vs a player that has options (Mejia) is a big advantage to a guy like Sanchez. Hopefully it is only used for a tiebreaker but I think it is likely that Hughes or Sanchez get every chance to take the #4 and (eventual) #5 spots.

I think it's more of a straight-up fight than you're implying. Mejia started 25-ish games last season and did okay for himself. The team is coming off an 85 win season and postseason berth. I don't think the front office is going to give the advantage to veterans like the old front office did so often.

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#16 old nurse

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Posted 04 March 2018 - 06:39 AM

 

That 4-men rotation plus a swingman was state of the art in the 1980s.With the unbalanced schedule now does not make too much sense because of the high likelihood of games suspended due to weather, doubleheaders etc.

 

He might want to do it, but I think that it just is not practical.

I suppose no team in the eighties had rain outs with their seasons.


#17 Platoon

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Posted 04 March 2018 - 07:25 AM

The fact that the Twins are touting the lack of a need for a fifth starter ignores the fact that the fifth starter is actually needed. He will be pitching not every 5 days, but every 4. Sadly it's the Twins first starter that will be missing those games, something Molitor selectively avoids mentioning, at least to The extent he can. So in essence Molitor does have to name a fifth starter on day 4 of the season, for short of injury or performance deficientcy, that pitcher will be in the rotation from day one going forward. It's the first starter he doesn't have to name, that guy has a cast on his hand.
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#18 BJames

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Posted 04 March 2018 - 08:56 AM

Has anyone noticed Littell, He and Romero look good.I'm a Slegers fan for the 5th spot and Mejia for the 4th spot.I doubt this happens in April, but I think this is the better way to go in the long run. Time to move Forward and out with the low ceiling dead weight. 


#19 FunnyPenguin

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Posted 04 March 2018 - 09:04 AM

Would you rather....

Have a semi load of IKEA furniture to put together this summer, or watch Phil Hughes start every fifth day?
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#20 Kelly Vance

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Posted 04 March 2018 - 10:30 AM

My four man rotation would be 

 

Palmer,  Cuellar, McNally and Dobson




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