Patrick Reusse: Twins have more roster openings than expected

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 21, 2009 - 9:45 PM

Mauer's injury provided one at catcher, and Brendan Harris' defensive limitations at second might push him aside for Matt Tolbert.

Brendan Harris was taken out on a double play by Milwaukee's Jason Kendall last year. Harris was playing second base at the time, but the Twins stopped using him at second not long after, putting him at third base and shortstop instead for the rest of the season.

Photo: Morry Gash, Associated Press - Ap

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FORT MYERS, FLA. - The Twins signed free agent Joe Crede to play third base on Feb. 21. The expectation was that this was the team's last major decision and that the 25-player opening roster basically was set.

A month later, there are machinations taking place in the wake of catcher Joe Mauer's back problem that could bring several twists to the roster.

The thought the Twins might take the rash action of rushing Wilson Ramos from Class A to the big leagues ended Friday. The Twins sent their top catching prospect to the minors.

Manager Ron Gardenhire also conceded that a scenario he mentioned last week -- three catchers -- was not going to happen.

The Twins will have two catchers. They are looking at outside options, but Drew Butera is the likely partner for Mike Redmond. Catching is a position where the Twins always will take defensive excellence over hitting potential, and that means Butera, 25, will get a call over Jose Morales, 26.

Butera batted .219 last season in Class AA, although Gardenhire said: "He's not helpless up there. I could see him hitting .230, .240. And he'll pop a ball once in a while.''

The absence of Mauer at season's start also will leave the manager with a gap in his lineup.

"I don't have a real '3' hitter without Joe,'' Gardenhire said. "Right now, I'd go with Jason Kubel. It would keep that left-left thing with Morneau, but Jason's swinging so well, with so much confidence. I think he can handle it.''

Early in camp, Gardenhire threw out the idea of 11 pitchers and an extra bench player. That's now off the board.

"We're going to have four extra players -- and one will be a catcher,'' he said.

Another extra player will come from the four regulars (Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer) that the Twins have for three outfield positions.

That leaves room for two backup infielders -- and here's where it gets dicey. Gardenhire wants Brian Buscher, with his lefthanded bat. And he wants another backup capable defensively at both second base and shortstop.

Gardenhire and his staff reached a conclusion a few weeks into last season that Brendan Harris was a liability at second base. That's the best position for Matt Tolbert, and he's also solid at shortstop and third base.

Harris can hit, and he's adequate on the left side of the infield. But in this era of short benches, managers and coaches look for options -- and the Twins might see more in Buscher and Tolbert.

Buscher is a lefthanded pinch-hitter and also can give regular days off to Crede, with his history of back trouble. Tolbert is a switch-hitter, can play all over the infield and serve as a pinch-runner in game-winning situations.

Going with Buscher and Tolbert as the backup infielders at the expense of Harris could be a decision the front office types will not endorse. They will wonder: "What would we do at third if Harris were gone, and then Crede's back went out?''

A possible response would be the Twins could survive with either Luke Hughes or Danny Valencia, both 24, as the righthander in a platoon with Buscher.

The early-camp wisdom also declared the only question with the pitching staff was the identity of the last reliever: out-of-options Philip Humber, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and Rule 5 draftee Jason Jones.

As it turns out, another opening was created when Jose Mijares -- a hero of late September -- showed up with his waistline and his pitches out of control. He was terrible again Friday against the Yankees, and might be down to a last chance to avoid demotion.

Brian Duensing, 26, a minor league starter and U.S. Olympic team reliever, is now a candidate to join Craig Breslow as a bullpen lefty. And, there might be a team with a bullpen lefty that could use an infielder with doubles power such as Brendan Harris.

Anyway, with two weeks left in baseball's Endless Spring Training and barring further injuries, here's one guess as to the season-opening 25 on April 6:

STARTERS (5) -- In order: Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, Nick Blackburn.

RELIEVERS (7) -- In order: Philip Humber, Brian Duensing, Matt Guerrier, Craig Breslow, Luis Ayala, Jesse Crain, Joe Nathan.

CATCHERS (2) -- Drew Butera, Mike Redmond (DL-Joe Mauer).

INFIELDERS (6) -- Justin Morneau, Alexi Casilla, Nick Punto, Joe Crede, Matt Tolbert, Brian Buscher.

OUTFIELDERS (4) -- Delmon Young, Carlos Gomez, Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span.

DESIGNATED HITTER (1) -- Jason Kubel.

Patrick Reusse can be heard 5:30-9 a.m. weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. • preusse@startribune.com

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