There has been some great reading around here in recent days about the state of the bullpen and on the closer-by-committee approach. I don't think Twins manager Ron Gardenhire will stick with the plan for long, but also don't think the role of the closer should be taken lightly.

The landscape is littered with relievers who were fine as set-up men but couldn't handle closing. Why? Regardless if it is right or not, the ninth inning has been built up by players, managers and us to be much bigger than the seventh or eighth innings. Justin Morneau pointed out how much it has meant for them to see Joe Nathan trot out for the ninth inning and know the game was in good hands.

I believe that. There's nothing that can eat at a team's confidence than a shaky closer situation. And relievers usually prefer defined roles - seventh inning guy, eighth inning guy, LOOGY, innings eater. The set up guy often have to put out fires before the ninth, while the closer often has a clean state in the ninth. So it's all a little weird actually, But that's not the only weird thing about baseball. It will be interesting how quickly Gardenhire settles on one closer - and beats down Bill Smith's office door, begging for a trade.

Watched the White Sox preview on the MLB Network last night. Know what? That's a pretty darn good team. The daily lineup might have holes (Mark Kotsay in the three-hole?) but Ozzie Guillen will have them running and putting pressure on defenses.Gordon Beckham will torment the Twins for years. And they might have one of baseball's deepest pitching staffs,1-12. They have J.J.Putz setting up Bobby Jenks. Matt Thornton is a hard-throwing lefty. Make that deep 1 through 11. The only head-scratcher is former Rochester Red Wing infielder Sergio Santos, who has been converted to a reliever. I know he had an arm, but is he ready for prime time? Anyway, it's still a good team.

Some minor league notes:

Luke Hughes will play second base at Class AAA Rochester.

Juan Portes will play third base at Class AA New Britain. They were impressed with his pop but he really doesn't have a position..

Kyle Waldrop will head back to Class AA New Britain to start the season, but he did impress in camp.

Aaron Hicks, the Twins' top prospect, is starting to fill out a little and looks stronger. He'll start the season at Class A Beloit but I don't think he'll finish the season there. Outfield prospect Angel Morales will also open the season at Beloit.

Kyle Gibson continues to draw raves. I'm thinking he'll make his major league debut in 2011. He's starting the season at Class A Fort Myers.

If you had Joe Mauer under contract for eight years, what would you do with Wilson Ramos? I would,at first, keep Ramos and have him and Mauer split DH-catcher time in 2011. That means either Jason Kubel or Delmon Young would have to move to make that happen. How many catchers in the majors can hit? It's worth considering. Eventually,he'll make great trade bait. And the rubes who called into KFAN yesterday about Ramos switching positions, just chill with that. Most catchers are bulky and can't move, making a switch difficult. Wait till you see Ramos run. Besides, he's gifted as a catcher. 

Miguel Angel Sano and Max Kepler are built impressively. I can see why there was a fuss over Sano's age because he's really put together. But, folks, he's young. These kids are learning how to drive a car and balance a checkbook and shop for groceries while learning how to play baseball. We all have to be patient here. Sano, however, is being shut down for a week with a sore back. Kepler went 4-for-4 the other day playing for the Gulf Coast League (rookie) team. Both will remain at extended spring training when minor league camp breaks.

Torii Hunter apparently is licking his wounds after referring to Latin players as, ``imposters,'' while discussing race and baseball recently. It was a poor choice of words. But it would have been worse for him if he wasn't so popular.
Hunter have since vowed not to discuss such issues anymore. I think that's a mistake. Young African-American players still look up to him. He's active off the field in trying to promote the game in the black community and he should not mute himself. His voice, and his efforts, are needed.  He might want to think about his answers in advance, but not mute himself.

Is there anyone who needs to mellow his harsh more than Milton Bradley? When he was with Cleveland, Hunter, Jacque Jones and Michael Tucker all tried to reach out to him about his behavior - particularly because of the reputation he was building with umpires - but it didn't help.
Now he thinks he's the Kanye West of baseball?
Yes, Bradley and West are equally irritating...

Gardenhire is thinking about using J.J. Hardy as the leadoff hitter on days when Denard Span is not in the lineup. (If that's more than five or six times, that means Span is injured and the  Twins are in trouble).
But Gardenhire (Pavano also mentioned this,too ) has been pleased with Hardy's defense this spring. Gardenhire said Hardy has good range, reliable hands and accurate throws. So he's happy with the Hardy-Hudson pairing.
``We're pretty solid up the middle,'' Gardenhire said.

Finally, I have expressed concerns over the Twins' ability to pay Mauer a hefty salary and still build a good team around him. I was influenced during the off-season when officials kept telling me they couldn't offer free agents multi-year contracts because they didn't know how much they would have to pay Mauer. That had me wondering how much would they over-extend themselves themselves to get a deal done.
After Mauer signed his eight-year, $184 million contract, the Twins sounded like it would NOT handcuff them that much.
``The payroll will continue to go up,'' Twins owner Jim Pohlad said.
Joe C. and I left the press conference announcing Mauer's deal with the feeling that the payroll could hit $120 million next season if it has to.


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The Twins closer is.......Jon Rauch