FORT MYERS, FLA. –There was a relief pitcher who was taken off the bubble a day earlier, sitting in front of his locker early on Thursday morning. This was in a row of pitchers who were doing the same, most looking at their cell phones.
This tall gentleman was looking around the Twins clubhouse and then caught the attention of the other pitchers. Then, he mouthed the words: “Park was cut.’’
There were quizzical looks in return, and he again mouthed the message: “Park was cut.’’
There was a mass rolling of the eyes among the other pitchers getting this message.
There was shock in the home clubhouse at Hammond Stadium, and it started with the player himself:
ByungHo Park, after a magnificent spring training, had been escorted into manager Paul Molitor’s office, where Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine were also present.
There, Park was told that he would not be returned to the Twins’ 40-player big-league roster, to serve as the designated hitter when the season opens on Monday at Target Field.
Instead, Park was told that he would stay on Rochester’s Class AAA roster, and would be with the Red Wings when their season opens later next week.
Park had been taken off the Twins’ roster in the first week of February, and with three years remaining on his contract, he passed through waivers. This wasn’t a surprise, considering the problems Park had against big-league pitching. He was sent down to Rochester last summer after those problems became severe.
He also had a wrist injury in mid-summer and didn’t get a September recall. There was minor surgery on the wrist, and back in Korea, he stayed low key and worked diligently to improve the timing of his swing.
Park showed up early in Fort Myers and worked out daily at the minor league fields. He was in big-league camp as an invitee.
A major issue in his rookie season in North America was starting early to catch up with a big-league fastball. You could see that even in spring training of 2016. There was little evidence of that this spring. He wasn’t jumping out to hit fastballs; he was getting to them with his normal swing.
Park hit home runs in back-to-back games to end his exhibition stay with the Twins: He hit a laser to right-center to beat Tampa Bay 1-0 on Tuesday, and then hit a moon shot over Fenway South’s version of the Green Monster to beat the Red Sox 5-3 on Wednesday..
This put Park’s numbers at .353 with six home runs and 13 RBI, and a more-than-acceptable 15 strikeouts (with six walks) in 57 plate appearances. For a week, the occupants of the Twins’ clubhouse had been certain that Park would open the season as the big-league DH.
A casual conversation with Glen Perkins early Thursday morning included the rehabbing reliever giving a nod toward Park’s locker and saying: “He’s had a great spring. The swing looks much better.’’
A few minutes later, Park was retrieved to go to Molitor’s office, and word spread that ByungHo was being sent across the parking lot to the minor league complex.
The message from the previous general manager, Terry Ryan, always was: Don’t get overly excited about what you see in spring training.
The message from the new brain trust, Falvey and Levine, was more clear on Thursday:Don’t pay any attention to what you see in spring training.
They didn’t flat out say it, but they didn’t have to.
They cut a right-handed hitter with a chance to get into a pitch against Kansas City lefthander Danny Duffy on Monday in Target Field, in favor of having an additional long reliever.
They cut a hitter with power who had fully earned a second chance to open a season as the Twins’ DH, so as not to take Buddy Boshers off the 40-man roster.
And the reason that's closest to the truth might be this
Molitor wanted veteran Nick Tepesch added to the roster as his long reliever. Falvey made him keep Justin Haley, the Rule 5 draftee, over Tepesch. And since Haley doesn't figure to be reliable as a pitcher to get the Twins from the fourth to the seventh when needed, it was decided to have two long relievers already on the 40-man roster -- meaning, Tyler Duffey to go with Haley.
I don’t want to overreact to this absurd decision on Park from the Twins' first-ever Chief Baseball Officer, but does the name of the Timberwolves' first President of Basketball Operations, David Kahn, ring a bell?
OK, we didn't get a "bifurcate'' as could be counted on from Kahn, but we did get this from Falvey as he summarized the decision to go with 13 pitchers:
"We had to pivot a few different times to the different iterations of those rosters.''
I remember Calvin telling us that one year at Tinker Field after settling on his 25 for Opening Day. Or maybe not.