It's late as I begin to write this, and I'm still suffering from a kind of jetlag/whiplash disorientation. It's most likely the result of sheer joy and elation from seeing Jim Thome mash two taters in his return to the lineup, followed by the hurricane of suck that is the Twins' bullpen.
After recovering from a shaky start to total seven innings, Carl Pavano handed the ball to the Twins' $11.25M man, Joe Nathan. After Nathan struggled on the mound (and Trevor Plouffe struggled in the infield), the ball was handed over to $7.15M man Matt Capps, who spent the next 1.2 innings blowing his fourth save. Yes, the defense behind him was bad. But so were his pitches (up in the zone and hittable) and the offense in front of him was worse. Justin Smoak was hitting .188 over the past two weeks, with Jack Cust, Franklin Gutierrez, Carlos Peguero, and Brendan Ryan to follow. Those are the types of hitters an elite reliever needs to devour. It wasn't to be.
Conventional wisdom says big contracts for relievers are questionable, at best, in the first place. But electing to roster two of MLB's ten most expensive relievers (one of whom is 12 months removed from Tommy John surgery) while filling out the rest of your bullpen with players who aren't even recognized by fans of the organizations from which they were acquired ... well that seems borderline crazy.
Like many, many others, I was against the decision to pay Capps from the moment he was acquired last July, and watching $18.4M worth of closers who can't get people out for the past seven weeks has me even more frustrated than I was back then. That none of the supporting cast (aside from the now-injured Glen Perkins) has so much as contributed a lick makes me look back to the beginning of the offseason when Billy Smith had his choice of a smorgasbord of free agents.
So come take a look at the Happy Hour menu from the beginning of last offseason. You won't find anything priced over $4M, and it's a la carte, so after the jump, feel free to mix and match up to your $7.15M limit, and have a great day.
Koji Uehara ($3M): He may be 36 and relatively new to MLB, but from 2009-10, Uehara totaled a 3.58 ERA with 8.4 K/9 and a very Twins-like 1.4 BB/9. His 6.06 K/BB ratio was second only to Roy Halladay (among pitchers with 110 innings or more).
2011 so far: 20 IP, 13 H, 5 BB, 23 K, 3 HR, 2.70 ERA
Jon Rauch ($3.75M): Rauch allowed just 23 earned runs through 73.1 innings as a Twin from 2009-10 and posted frighteningly similar numbers to his replacement as closer in Minnesota. He's an affordable reliever, but no one who's 6'11" can be described as "scrappy," so maybe that hurt him.
2011 so far: 18 IP, 14 H, 6 BB, 9 K, 3 HR, 4.00 ERA
Chad Qualls ($2.55M): Qualls was linked to the Twins at the trade deadline and in the offseason. His ERA was an eyesore in San Diego, but his peripherals (4.13 FIP, 3.77 xFIP, .386 BABIP, 55% GB%, etc.) told another story. That sort of black magic is frowned upon by the Twins, though, so he was likely passed over for that reason.
2011 so far: 25.1 IP, 19 H, 5 BB, 15 K, 1 HR, 2.13 ERA (60.5 GB%!)
Randy Choate ($2.5M for 2 years): Perhaps the truest lefty specialist in all the land, Choate required a two-year commitment but has held lefties to a .594 OPS for his career. That number may look large to some of the Twins' hitters, but it's actually quite bad. Who knew?
2011 so far: 6.2 IP (through 17 appearances!), 4 H, 3 BB, 11 K, 1 HR, 1.35 ERA... lefties are 2-19 with 11 K against him.
Todd Coffey ($1.35M): Coffey posted a 3.52 ERA as a Brewer from 2008-10, with a 7.5 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9. His fastball as a member of the Crew averaged around 94mph and he kept the ball on the ground nearly 50% of the time. His fastball's a mile slower than Jim Hoey's, but then again his career BB/9 is less than half Hoey's as well. Hmm...
2011 so far: 17.2 IP, 11 H, 6 BB, 18 K, 1 HR, 2.04 ERA
Kyle Farnsworth ($3.25M): Never thought you'd see a day when Farnsworth was appealing? Think again. From 2001-10 he posted an ERA of 4.00 on the dot with 10.0 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9. Even at 33 in 2010, his fastball averaged 94.9mph.
2011 so far: 15.1 IP, 13 H, 1 BB, 9 K, 0 HR, 1.76 ERA
Dan Wheeler ($3M): Wheeler's 3.24 ERA over 172.1 innings from 2008-10 in the AL East topped that of Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, and Jon Rauch. His 4.13 xFIP suggests it should be higher, but a bigger ballpark and weaker division would help his bottom line results.
2011 so far: Wheeler is the only struggling pitcher on the menu, largely because his inflated ERA is due to 351 and 353 foot HRs that may well have been outs at Target Field. His 3.83 xFIP dwarfs his 10.03 ERA and his AL East track record is impressive.
Ronny Paulino, C ($1.3M): Paulino entered 2011 as a career .273/.328/.383 hitter who'd thrown out 31% of attempted base stealers in his career. His .339/.392/.488 line against left-handed pitching would look nice for the Twins, who have hit .242/.301/.333 against lefties as a collective unit. He was entering the season with eight games left on a 50-game PED suspension, however.
2011 so far: .306/.390/.333 through 41 PA; 4-7 in catching thieves on the basepaths. Paulino collected five hits in his first start, a feat that took Drew Butera 10 games and which still hasn't been matched by Rene Rivera (also through 10 games).
Orlando Cabrera, 2B/SS ($1M): Cabrera hit .263/.303/.354 just one season after helping the Twins to the 2009 playoffs and providing some fire in the clubhouse. He's not much anymore, but for just $500K more than Matt Tolbert or $100K more than Alexi Casilla, you can have something resembling offense.
2011 so far: .272/.290/.352 with 2 HR through 42 games. Cabrera's OPS+ of 86 is more than that of Casilla (39) and Tolbert (23) combined. Early returns on his defense at second base aren't pretty, but have you seen the Twins' infield defense?
It's obvious that there are no superstars on this list, but it's also irritating to think that the Twins could have theoretically had Uehara, Qualls, Cabrera, and Paulino for less than the price of Capps plus three sub-replacement level players.
Would 3-4 reasonable upgrades with that money have shielded the Twins from their current predicament? No, but it could have left hope in the air for a run once Mauer and Morneau return to form, and once the rotation rights the ship.
In a season where everything that can go wrong has gone wrong, Capps' contract looks like a prime example of poorly allocated funds that have fueled the fire. It'd certainly be nice to see a new approach when they rebuild their bullpen next offseason. Like many GMs, Smith probably panicked when Joaquin Benoit set the bar early on with a three-year, $16.5M contract. But, if Smith had the sense to wait out Pavano's demands and drive his price down, why not do the same with the bullpen rather than overpay one arm and back yourself into a corner that forces you to rely on other teams' spare parts? Hopefully some trades at the deadline bring in some fresh, affordable arms for the Twins.
Steve Adams also writes for MLBTradeRumors.com and contributes at 612Sports.net. You can follow him on Twitter: @Adams_Steve