A short list, examining a few pitchers who are without homes.
While starting pitching hasn't exactly been stellar, the difference in talent available between the rotation and the bullpen is something more than marginal. With the exception of Joe Nathan, there are no irreplaceable parts; and only Matt Guerrier owns the only other acceptable bullpen performance. Jose Mirjares may join those ranks, but after just 4.2 innings with the Twins so far I'm not counting any chickens.
Going into Tuesday night's game with the Tigers, the Twins bullpen had thrown 72.1 innings...or just over 31% of the staff's innings. This means that for every nine-inning game, the bullpen is picking up about 2.2 innings with the starters responsible for 6.1. For how much flack this rotation has had in regards to not going long enough, to this point on the whole they haven't been horribly short either. Could they go longer? Absolutely. But they aren't forcing Ron Gardenhire to stretch his bullpen too much. Only two bullpens in the American League, Kansas City (a much better bullpen than ours) and Los Angeles (a much worse bullpen than ours), have thrown fewer innings.
In spite of what I'd call a manageable workload, the Twins 2009 bullpen has posted a 5.72 ERA in those 72.1 innings. They're fairly middle of the road in terms of strikeout rates, walk rates, base runners and opponent OPS (giving a reason why the traditional ERA is so much higher than FIP, at 4.88), but they're clearly struggling in terms of run prevention. Only four bullpens in all of baseball strand fewer base runners than the Twins.
There are internal options to consider. But who is still on the market, and is there anyone that could lend a bit of credibility, reliability and an air of confidence to our relief corps?
The Intriguing Bullpen Free Agents
We'll start with the positives. Burgos is 25, throws heat in the mid-90's, has a penchant for strikeouts and has stranded three quarters of his base runners in his MLB experience. That's the good news.
The bad news is that, like everyone else on this list, there are reasons these guys are still free agents. Burgos has had issues with control in the past, and I'm not just talking about being inconsistent around the strike zone. He was arrested and later convicted of assaulting his girlfriend late in 2008, just one month into a rehab stint following some time off for Tommy John surgery. There's a reason this guy hasn't been tendered a contract, and I'm not comfortable with the Twins being the team who gives him a second chance.
Didn't he retire? He's not listed as retired. Foulke had an alright year in Oakland in 2008, but he was king of the gopherball. Besides, a marginal 36-year old whose fastball may or may not win a race to the plate in competition with a fastball from Livan Hernandez isn't the answer.
Lopez is a 34-year old right-hander with a 3.78 ERA in 270.1 innings. He'll strike a few guys out while walking a few. Good history of stranding base runners, does a fairly good job of keeping the ball in the park and for the most part doesn't profile as a horrible pitcher. The Korean Baseball Organization realized this and the Kia Tigers signed him back in January.
Converting A Starter?
Those were aren't all of the free agent bullpen arms, but there really aren't any truly good options. If the Twins want to improve their bullpen via free agents, perhaps their best option is to convert a starter?
Sure, Pedro wants $5 million. But it's not like teams are lining up to sweep him off his expensive feet. He's an injury risk, possibly a character risk if he feels he isn't being used appropriately and obviously a financial risk, but what if he's not opposed to a few months audition as a set-up man? Being able to let it all go for an inning may give him a bit more pop, and a strikeout threat in the bullpen is always a good thing. Unfortunately, even if he would be willing to step into a bullpen role as a way to get back onto a roster, he'd want to play for a contender. Right now, that label excludes the Twins.
With Jesse Crain back back and Mijares showing good signs of life, coupling them with Guerrier and Nathan make for the beginnings of a decent bullpen. Getting Craig Breslow's confidence back would be another boost. But it doesn't matter how we look at it, right now this is a bullpen in a state of 9-1-1.
Free agent options are available, but right now the more feasible and realistic options are all in Rochester. Even once those options are considered and exhausted, a trade would be more likely than the signing of a Martinez or a Burgos.
Of course in a happy world, the guys we have just get it together. It's hard to be as bad as the Twins have been, and to continue to be as bad as they've been, even with the collection of arms they've assembled.