There has been a steady drumbeat in Twins Territory regarding upgrades to the bullpen. The purpose of this article is not to disagree with them, so much as it is to discuss reasons why delaying such a move is best for the club over a long season.
First, the facts: Twins have 5 pitchers on their existing 25-man roster who have options remaining. Berrios (1, which will in all likelihood never be exercised), Smeltzer (3), Rogers (2), Harper (3) and Duffey (1). I think we can add Rogers to the list of "probably will not be optioned."
They have 7 pitchers on their active roster who do not have options remaining, meaning they would have to pass through waivers or be outrighted to take them off the 25-man - Odorizzi, Gibson, and Perez in the rotation, and Parker, May, Morin, and Magill in the bullpen.
Important to note, too, that both Michael Pineda and Adalberto Mejia are on the IL, but neither has options remaining once their rehabilitation and rehab assignments are completed. That means we have 3 "optionable" pitchers in Harper, Duffey and Smeltzer, and two guys who could change from IL to "non-optionable" in the coming days and weeks.
We also have 8 pitchers the 40-man roster in the minors with options remaining - Romero (1), Hildy (3), Moya (2), Vasquez (3), Stewart (3), Littell (2), Gonsalves (2) and Thorpe (2). (this is all courtesy of https://www.rosterresource.com/mlb-minnesota-twins/ and could, for all I know, not be 100% current).
One of the more interesting features I've been following in the daily roundup of the big league club is the utilization of bullpen arms. It has led me to a clear conclusion that filling the bullpen at this point in the season with non-optionable guaranteed contracts is not helpful to this team at this time.
I would much rather roll with the bullpen of Parker, May, Morin and Magill (and there is certainly an argument that the last two of those - even though they have no options remaining - could be DFA'd if their performance hit the skids or if an emergency arose). But assuming we're not waiving/DFA'ing players right now, it is my belief that we are a better team with a bullpen of Parker, May, Morin and Magill, plus Rogers and Harper and a possible rotation of the last two spots between Smeltzer, Duffey, Romero, Hildenberger, Moya, Vasquez, Stewart, Littell, Gonsalves and Thorpe, than we are with the above six plus, let's say, Sean Doolittle and Will Smith.
Crazy? I think not. Any player with options remaining must remain in the minor leagues for 10 days before being recalled (barring injury to someone on the 25-man or special circumstances like double-headers); so we could rotate the optionable players, above (10 of them) every series, two at a time depending on who is pitching well and how taxed the bullpen arms are at any given moment, or even more often than that.
Having two option holes in your relief roster with 12 players eligible to fill those spots creates an effective relief corp of 17-18 players. Even if you don't consider all 10-12 to be big-league ready arms, you can still manage innings among 6-8 of them by optioning them back and forth on 10-day intervals. There are also interesting possibilities in which you drop to a 7-man relief corps because you can shuffle arms freely if the depth is available.
Now look at what happens when Pineda and Mejia come back - now you are down to 1 option slot remaining. While you could still rotate guys through that spot, we would have already sent Duffey and Smeltzer down, leaving only Rogers and Harper (and Berrios) with options remaining.
If we were to add Doolittle and Smith, we either need to pass Morin, Magill (or Pineda or Mejia in my example) through waivers or option Rogers and Harper, and we will then be chock full of immobile roster spots. Yes, yes, I understand that designating a player for a superior player is a benefit, but there is also a point in early June given our circumstances that keeping maximum flexibility is paramount.
This is only focused on the pitching side, but I have a belief that players such as Smeltzer, Romero, Thorpe, Hildy, Duffey and Stewart could prove incredibly valuable to this team over the next 4 months, not to mention a healthy Graterol.
Would I like to have Will Smith and Sean Doolittle on the playoff roster come October? You bet. But would I want to tie the hands of the front office between now and then by obtaining strong relievers and choking off the pipeline? No. There is certainly an argument to be made that come the trade deadline you choose the bottom two relievers and use DFA just like an option to add these stalwarts to the roster, but that is a choice that should be made in mid- to late-July, while we watch the myriad of options shake out. It is (judging from past playoffs and watching other teams juggle rosters) that the "list of 12" may end up containing a better ultimate relief option (or two) than anything out there right now - filling a perceived void could well create more problems with innings, options, overuse, and dead arms than rolling with this herd mentality.