First of all, I'm disappointed the Twins didn't sign Brian Fuentes. I wish the Twins would have come at him aggressively early on and made it clear that they saw him as part of a Nathan/Capps/Fuentes/Mijares quartet that would rule the final three innings in 2011. To me, he could have been an end-game difference maker that the Twins didn't have in the other guys they let walk.
I'm also trying to imagine the howls if the Twins had signed Jesse Crain or Matt Guerrier to the three-year deals they sucked out of the White Sox and Dodgers. The system worked for those guys.
That being said, I simply can't get all worked up about the current state of the bullpen.
Concerned, yes. Wondering about Joe Nathan's return and Jose Mijares' maturity and how Matt Capps will do as a set-up guy for Nathan, which is the way things are supposed to work out. Right now, I'm wondering if Brian Duensing is a fine fit as the bullpen fourth and thinking that from the rest of the relief candidates -- Hoey/Neshek/Diamond/Perkins/Manship/Slama -- the Twins should be able to find two set-up guys and someone to eat the ugly innings of lopsided games.
I'm also wondering if the Yankees and Twins would have an interest in a Kevin Slowey-for-Joba Chamberlain deal. Both are struggling pitchers who have frustrated their teams with a lack of progress. The Yankees have become dismissive of Chamberlain, all the more when you consider that they need starting pitching and his name doesn't come up much when potential rotations are vetted.
Make that deal and the Twins would even cut a bit more than $1 million from the payroll while adding a heavy arm to the bullpen mix. I'm all about saving the Pohlads money, you know. (Wink. More on them later.)
Now, for a more serious message. I've been hearing and reading a lot about payroll and budgets as they relate to the Twins.
Can we agree on two things?
1. With Carl Pavano and Jim Thome back, an improved middle infield (let's assume that as the best-case scenario) and a revamped bullpen that's as good as the 2010 model (again, work with me, people), the Twins are in fine position to.... to... to... compete for another AL Central title. Did I just see a yawn?
2. If the Twins are that good, they'll still need an upgrade at the top of the rotation to battle through the postseason -- and almost certainly the closing months of the regular season in an improved division. Maybe Francisco Liriano will become a Top 5 pitcher who works as well in big games as he does in the other ones. But I'm skeptical. So that means the pressure will be on Bill Smith and the Pohlads, come summer, to make a Cliff Lee-type move. Otherwise, the Twins will be reduced to playing the hope card again, and I think even the most patient among us are starting to find that tiresome.
Twins management has the financial wherewithal to do pretty much whatever it wants. The tenant days at the Metrodome have been replaced by the ringing cash registers of Target Field and a business operation headed by the late Carl Pohlad's three sons that appears to function smoothly and aggressively. According to Forbes magazine, Carl was worth $3.6 billion in 2008 and the brothers sold off their soft-drink bottling and distribution business for $2.12 billion in 2010. It wouldn't at all be a stretch to continue investing in the baseball team, right?
The Twins will start the season with a payroll of about $113 million. Some are clucking about the $18.4 million that's tied up in the back end of the bullpen (Nathan and Capps) but that's an amount the Twins were backed into by Nathan's injury. The Joe Mauer legacy contract of $23 million per season is such a unique situation that I consider his salary a separate expense beyond payroll -- a business decision that had to be done and a baseball decision made with logic and crossed fingers.
So I'm quite comfortable arguing that the Twins were queasy about throwing out multi-year contracts to relief pitchers they felt could be adequately replaced. That was a baseball decision and didn't have anything to do with the Pohlads and their advisors getting dry heaves when looking at the team payroll. If they're OK with paying Capps $7.15 million, we probably shouldn't lose any sleep over it. If Crain, Rauch and/or Guerrier were going to be keys to a championship, they'd still be Twins. Among those four, I'll take Capps.
And I'm just as comfortable saying that when the Twins show themselves to be contenders come midseason, the pressure will be on Bill Smith to get the pitcher that will get them past the discouraging three-and-out syndrome that has become the story of October baseball in Minnesota. That would be a wise business (and baseball) decision.
If Smith and the Pohlads get to that point and don't come through, fans will have reason to howl.
1. Bullpen pitchers can be replaced.
2. Twins have no reason not to contend. (Sorry for the double negative.)
3. Top-line starter will be needed for late season and post-season.
4. Money for that starter is available.
5. Let's get the guys on the field.
If you're looking for something to do on Friday, January 28, let me suggest joining up with a bunch of us for the "Third Annual Last Hot Stove League Banquet and Charity Auction," a production of Julian Loscalzo and the Save the Met gang. Despite the name, the event dates back almost 30 years and this year's banquet will feature former Twins pitcher and broadcaster Jim Kaat. Tickets are $30 in advance and you can get 'em by mailing a check (made out to BPT) to 1141 Portland Ave., St. Paul, 55104. Event location is at the Carpenter's Hall, 710 Olive Street in St. Paul.