Can We Save the Bullpen From Itself?

It depends on what you're looking for.

It's easy to over-react after a series like the one we just went through, where the bullpen is the focal point of blame for A) being unable to keep a quality performance together, like what happened with Baker and Blackburn, and B) being unable to stop the opposition from racking up 12 runs in three innings.  Our bullpen failed, three games in a row, and it wasn't pretty.  It was destructive, and it was disconcerting.

It's easy to look at how the bullpen was managed, to see Brian Bass's appearance in Monday's game or to note that Joe Nathan didn't throw a pitch in the series, and heap the blame on Ron Gardenhire.  Still, a good bullpen is only as good as its options, and as effective as guys like Crain, Breslow, Reyes and Guerrier have been, it's not a bullpen you want to put a lot of weight onto.

The reality of the situation is that the heirarchy that Gardenhire has set up works perfectly when his relievers are effective.  But there is no Juan Rincon v. 2004, and there's no Pat Neshek v. 2007, so when those relievers aren't effective the status quo gets questioned.  Not only are we second-guessing the manager's use of the bullpen, we're questioning his options.

So what the hell can we do?

1.  Stand pat, and hope some of these guys can pull themselves together.
2.  The non-waiver trade deadline is coming up.  There are bound to be some external options available.
3.  There are pitchers in Rochester who have earned a shot, an internal promotion could bolster the troops.

There's something to be said for staying the course.  Over the years, the Twins have frustrated fans with their patience with some players while displaying a seemingly inconsistent philosophy for being aggressive with others.  Baseball, it's been said many times, is a patient game, and teams that panic at the first sign of trouble rarely find success in their solutions.  A search for the silver bullet, for the quick fix, is rarely found and usually just perpetuates a cycle of failure.

At the same time, teams who refuse change simply for consistency's sake can find themselves being passed by.  Playoff teams who make no major changes from one season to the next, who go into season 2 with the same personnel they had in season 1, find that there's more in the mix than the players involved.  Things get stale because no two seasons are the same.  Contending teams will always look to make intelligent changes and bring in new players, because the "magic" that one crew had rarely carries over an off-season.

So if Minnesota is considering standing pat, the question they need to already know the answer to is:  for how long?  If the Twins stand pat, it has to be because they believe they already have the best 12 pitchers on their roster; if they don't believe that and they aren't planning on making a change one way or the other, the only thing that's certain is that they aren't focusing on winning in 2008.  It would mean they're focusing on 2009 or beyond...or they don't know what their focus is, period.  I could buy the former, but not the latter.

Externally, there are always options.  Tim Dierkes, over at MLBTradeRumors, gives a pretty thorough run-down of who is likely to be availble via trade in the relief market.  Certain players are either bad ideas or would be priced out of what we could reasonably expect the Twins organization to pull off, but there are a few intriguing options.

Huston Street is one of the more intruguing names, and he turns 25 in August and is arbitration-eligible through 2010.  He's likely out of Minnesota's reach, and thankfully so because a relief pitcher isn't worth what the Twins would likely have to give up for Street.  Then there's Jon Rauch, 30, who's quietly been one of the league's best non-closers the last three seasons.  This year he's been serving some time as their closer, but he'd come at less of a premium than Street.  In Texas there's a guy named Frank Francisco (28) who has some good numbers and might not be a pain in the ass to pick up.  Pittsburgh has a trio of relief pitchers on Dierkes' list, but the only one I'd trust going forwrad would be Damaso Marte, who's once again proving himself to be a master of his craft at 33.  His name and reputation might make him a bit more expensive, but he'd likely be worth the cost.  Finally there's R.A. Dickey, 33, who the Twins let slip through their fingers.  He throws a good knuckleball even though his numbers don't always look the best, and if used effectively could make a positive impact on the back end of the 'pen.  Plus, he'd likely be less of a hassle to acquire than anyone else I've mentioned.

Lastly, if the Twins feel like their best option going forward for the bullpen is in the minor leagues, there are a couple of arms in Rochester worthy of a call.  27-year old southpaw Ricky Barrett is having another strong season.  Opponents are hitting a meager .186 off of him in 49 innings, along with 58 strikeouts an a 1.16 WHIP.  If you're tired of waiting for Minnesota to promote him, 25-year old southpaw Mariano Gomez might strike your fancy.  He doesn't have the strikeouts but has been very effective, with a miniscule 2.02 ERA in 44.2 innings, to go along with a 1.30 WHIP.  Finally there's Bobby Korecky and his tight breaking ball, if you'd rather bring up a right-hander.  In triple-A this season he's struck out 37 in 42.2 innings for a 3.16 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP.  Those should probably be the first three guys in line, but even guys like Casey Daigle and Carmen Cali have been effective in relief.  Tim Lahey's peripherals are better than his ERA suggests as well.

So, clearly there are things that can be done, if the organization deems that something must be done.  That's a question only they can answer, but all your speculation can be found right here.  Stay tuned.

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