The major league deadline for offering contracts to arbitration-eligible players was Dec. 2. I was among those surprised when the Twins made the required offers to all six players in that category: pitchers Tommy Milone, Brian Duensing and Casey Fien, third baseman Trevor Plouffe, outfielder Jordan Schafer and infielder Eduardo Nunez.
Plouffe and Fien were necessities. Schafer benefitted from the shortage of outfielders, particularly in center field.
I did not think the Twins would offer contracts to Milone, Duensing or Nunez. The soft-throwing, left-handed Milone showed nothing after being acquired for outfielder Sam Fuld last July 31. Duensing seemed too expensive for the mediocre bullpen lefty that he had become. Nunez’ ability to get an occasional hit didn’t make up for his fielding deficiencies.
Three weeks later, the Twins made another puzzling move: They signed Tim Stauffer, a veteran righthander and free agent, to a $2.2 million contract. The 32-year-old Stauffer seemed to “people in the industry’’ to be more a candidate for a make-good contract carrying an invite to spring training than a guaranteed deal such as this.
Three months later, the Twins are ready to set the first Opening Day roster for manager Paul Molitor, and the decisions to make commitments to marginal veterans are among the reasons to look at the early part of this season with dread.
Plouffe settled for $4.8 million and he’s an asset. Fien settled for $1.35 million and the Twins need him to throw as he did for the first two-thirds of last season. Schafer settled for $1.5 million and will start in center field – less than ideal but better than continuing to wait for Aaron Hicks.
In my opinion, the remainder of the aforementioned – Milone, Duensing, Stauffer and Nunez -- would not be around if the Twins didn’t have money invested.
A week ago, I asked a member of the Twins’ field staff, “Is Stauffer throwing any better?’’ and the response was a roll of the eyes. I have no idea where Molitor will hide Stauffer in the bullpen, if he keeps offering the lousy stuff demonstrated this spring.
Duensing threw batting practice to the Red Sox on Monday night. Molitor tried to dismiss this embarrassment to reporters later, pointing to Duensing’s good numbers for his other exhibition outings.
I can tell you that the field staff is in a panic over the condition of this bullpen, and Duensing offering up that BP session to the Red Sox regulars on Monday could only have increased the angst.
The issue isn’t that one horrid attempt at pitching in an exhibition game. The issue is this:
When you look at Duensing’s pitches these days, you’re more surprised when he gets out real big-league hitters than when he doesn’t. Yet, with no market for Duensing and his $2.7 million contract, he stays.
The Twins chose Milone as their fifth starter last weekend. The party line this spring has been that Milone has been much-improved, after having a benign tumor removed from his neck during the offseason.
In truth, with Milone and Pelfrey as equally uninspired options, the Twins decided to go with Milone to give them one lefthander in the rotation.
In greater truth, Trevor May should have been the fifth starter – better stuff, a better chance to make it through six innings worth of big-league hitters – but the Twins had that total of $8.25 million invested in Milone and Pelfrey, so back to the Rochester Red Wings goes May.
So back to the Rochester Red Wings goes the 25-year-old May, for his eighth professional season.
Here’s the deal: If Ricky Nolasco can take the same quality of pitches to the regular season that he showed in Fort Myers, the Twins should have the best front four in the rotation that they have had since Johan Santana left town: Phil Hughes, Erv Santana, Kyle Gibson and Nolasco.
And they have a shot to be OK at the end of games with Fien in front of closer Glen Perkins. But with the rest of this collection, in this age of bullpens all around baseball filled with pitchers throwing 97 miles per hour …
Hey, when your most-trusted option among a handful of relievers behind Fien/Perkins appears to be 33-year-old journeyman Blaine Boyer, the new manager might want to spend the last few days in Florida auditioning position players for what could be the important task of mop-up duty.
Maybe that could prove to be a workable option for Nunez in the field: mopcatcher.