Joe Nathan’s injury created significant questions for the Twins as they sorted out their bullpen options for 2010. Thankfully, when faced with a choice, the team did not panic, and indeed did something sensible. Gardenhire told reporters on Sunday, "we're going to start out and we're going to look at a lot of different people and we'll see what happens. We've got about three or four different guys we can go to."
So, the Twins announced plans to go with what’s being called a “closer by committee” approach at the end of games, but which really amounts to riding the hot hand in the short term and letting the competition play itself out organically. The Common Man is fairly pleased by this. After all, as he pointed out earlier this month, there is really no perfect internal solution for the loss of an elite reliever like Joe Nathan. Rather, the Twins are faced with a number of inexperienced choices who don’t necessarily profile well as shut-down closers in the new sense we’re talking about here. Yet, all of the relievers in question are quality pitchers, and are likely to be average to above-average at the end of the game. There’s no need to give up some of the team’s elite young talent for another largely fungible reliever.
Instead, the team has made value moves. The signing of Ron Mahay indicated, at first, that the Twins were interested in moving Jose Mijares into the role. However, Mahay’s minor league contract could also be taken as a sign that Francisco Liriano has won the 5th starter spot and that Brian Duensing would spend at least part of this season in Rochester, where he’ll be a starter. Either way, if he makes the team Mahay figures to allow Mijares the freedom to enter games in higher leverage situations in the 8th or 9th inning, rather than serving as the team’s de facto LOOGY. Indeed, what the Twins are doing will allow them to pick the matchups that are, in theory, the most effective, bringing in Mijares against Sizemore and Hafner, while using Rauch or Guerrier against Magglio and Cabrera.
As Rob Neyer tweeted tonight, Gardy’s exclusion of Pat Neshek from his list of end of game options is somewhat disappointing. Neshek is incredibly popular with the fans and is generally an excellent relief option against both righties and lefties. His demeanor suggests an ability to work past difficult outings, and his stuff, if he’s healthy, is absolutely filthy. Alas, the Twins seem to have decided to baby Neshek a little bit at the start of the year, easing him back into an expanded role with the club. And The Common Man can respect that, even if he’s eager to see his favorite side-armer get some saves. In fact, one added benefit for the Twins (but not for Neshek) is that a lower save total will result in a lower salary once Pat becomes eligible for arbitration next season.
Again, The Common Man continues to expect Jon Rauch to get the majority of the opportunities at the end of the game. Despite their reasoned approach here, the Twins have always been a relatively conventional team, and Rauch has the look and at least a little bit of experience with the role. Rauch will not be as effective as Joe Nathan, and it will be interesting to see just how the Twins react to this. Indeed, if the team senses weakness, there’s an excellent chance they could pull the trigger on an even more panicky deal than the ones they’ve rejected thusfar. But if they can stay patient and flexible, allowing the most effective relievers to rise to the top of the bullpen ladder, the team is likely to find itself in relatively good shape this year.
This experience can also serve as a strong lesson on building a bullpen going forward, reminding Bill Smith that closers are mostly made, not born, and not to overextend the club for replaceable talent.
Note: The Common Man is sorry for a awfully short post today (by TCM's standards). He's got a lot coming up this week, including a new Beer Leaguers tomorrow, his first post as a part of the Its About the Money Stupid team tomorrow or Wednesday (The Common Man will be posting there once or twice a week from here on out), his regular guest spot at The Daily Something, and a ridiculously entertaining (and long) interview with former Expo and Blue Jay Balor Moore. Check back often, it's going to be busy.