The Twins failed to upgrade their bullpen before the trading deadline and then the Angels came to town and showed them how very silly that was. According to General Manager Bill Smith, everyone wanted to "turn Larry Anderson into Jeff Bagwell," meaning they were asking for ridiculous deals knowing how desperate other GMs were. Still, the Rockies managed to land Joe Beimel and Rafael Betancourt for next to nothing. WTF?
Who knows? Anyway, If it was hard to get a reliever by trade before the deadline, it's nearly impossible now. Teams have to pass the player through waivers before trading them at this point. Given the number of clubs looking for relief help, quality relievers are not likely to clear waivers. Teams can put a claim on a reliever and attempt to acquire him from the other team. But that maneuver is rarely pulled off. Bottom line: If the Twins want to upgrade their bullpen (AND THEY HAD BETTER UPGRADE THEIR BULLPEN), they'll have to look within.
The first question is, how many arms do they need? The answer is not all that encouraging. Now, I'm pretty sure the Twins can scare up an upgrade for one of the pitching machines we call a reliever out there. But when you have four such pitchers, it's a little tough. OK, that's a bit harsh. Joe Nathan, Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares are all having very good seasons. But it seems like no matter who the Twins stick into the other four spots, they can't cut it.
- R. A. Dickey is the closest thing to a competent reliever after the big three. He's had his moments, but he simply can't get people out when he comes in with guys on base. I'm pretty sure that's a problem for a middle reliever. It works OK for the long man, though. So he can stay, as long as he is not used in any role outside of mop-up.
- Brian Duensing is a rookie who's never really done a whole lot of relieving, so he's a spot starter/long man as well. Manager Ron Gardenhire is reluctant to use him in high-leverage situations anyway. If he stays, he stays out of the seventh and eighth innings. The problem is, if the Twins need two long men, they probably won't be in the race anyway. Ideally you would upgrade Duensing for a quality short reliever, preferably a lefty. BTW, How's that Craig Breslow guy doing? You don't want to know.
Jesse Crain was once a very promising prospect who had a couple of very good years for the Twins in 2005 and 2006. Then he got hurt in 2007 and tried to pitch through it with so-so results, before getting shut down. After labrum and rotator cuff surgery in 2007, he attempted to come back early last year and, all things considered, had a decent year. Many of us, me included, thought he would be even better this year, one more year removed from surgery. Our hopes grew higher when he was the closer for team Canada in the WBC: He dominated. So we thought he had returned to the pitcher he promised to be when he came up: A closer in waiting.
It is no exagerration to say the Jesse Crain is the biggest disappointment on the Twins this year, especially after his performance in the WBC. He has been thoroughly terrible. So bad, the Twins actually sent him down to help him work through some mechanical issues. And he pitched decently down in Rochester. But since his return from the minors, he's been a
Craintrain wreck. Actually, I looked at the numbers again, and it seems he is just as bad now as he was t before the demotion. His OPS against prior to the demotion was .900. After the promotion: .903. Just to pile it on, his ERA for the year is 7.5. His WHIP is 1.88. It is difficult to stress just how bad he has been. On the plus side, his FIP is 5.10. Still, I think it's time to start looking for someone, anyone, to replace him.
- Bobby Keppel is a journeyman who has never had much success in baseball, until this year, when he developed a power sinker and tore through AAA on the way to an improbable call-up. Even more improbable were his first half dozen outings in the show, when he was unhittable. Hitter after hitter would swing at the power sinker and pound the ball into the ground. Then something happened: They stopped swinging at the sinker. It started on the road trip in Oakland, and has continued since. The thing is, it isn't typically a strike when it crosses the plate. It's typically low. So if hitters simply lay off the pitch, as the A's and Angels have done over the last 14 days, they take their walks until he's forced to bring the sinker up. And you all know that story (see Silva, Carlos). The other problem is, Keppel has no other pitch. His slider is more of a hanging cutter. He has no change, no curve. Watching him on the mound, it is obvious that he will not get many more major league hitters out. He needs to go away and be replaced by someone who has more than one pitch and can throw strikes. The sooner the better.
So the Twins need at least two relievers, preferably three. Unfortunately, there aren't any lefties down on the farm who can get guys out in the majors. So we're stuck with two long men (Dickey and Duensing) and a desperate need for two more set-up guys. The way the season is going, they might as well bring two up now, throw them against the wall, and hope they stick. Here are the guys I would consider, in order:
Juan Morillo was acquired off waivers from the Rockies earlier this year. He got a brief tryout that was so bad, he passed through waivers and was assigned to AAA. He's been working with Bobby Cuellar this whole time and is making good progress. His FIP in AAA is 2.77 behind an impressive K% of 31.3. To put that in context, he has 62 strikeouts in 45 innings. Fans who remember his brief tryout recall he threw in the upper 90s to 100, but he was wild. Well, his walk rate is still high--14.6%--but within a manageble level for a guy who throws so hard, you don't see it. (That might be part of the problem: Umpires can't call what they can't see.)
The Twins could sure use his stuff and it wouldn't hurt them to give him an extended tryout for the rest of the year, knowing that they have no other option and their season is slipping away anyway. The only downside is he would need to be here to stay since he is out of options. It's worth the risk, though, because he is the only arm in the system capable of getting high-leverage outs, similar to what Mijares did last year.
- Armando Gabino is a long-time farm hand who has slowly made his way to AAA. Despite his slow climb, the Twins thought enough of him to protect him from the Rule 5 draft in the off season by putting him on the 40-man roster. His numbers look good on the surface (2.78 ERA, 1.04 WHIP). But a deeper dive reveals that he mostly pitches to contact, as Keppel and Crain did in Rochester. HIs FIP is 4.04 behind a mediocre strikeout rate of 14.6 %. But he doesn't walk a lot of guys (7.1% BB rate), so he might actually be favored by Twins staff over Morillo. At this point I say, give him a shot. He can't be any worse than Crain or Keppel.
- Rob Delaney is the popular choice of the blogosophere, due to his meteoric rise through the system. He started this year strong in AA, with a 1.85 FIP behind a 28% K rate and a minuscule walk rate (4.2%) in New Britain. Since his promotion to Rochester, he has struggled, somewhat, however. His K rate has plunged (18.8%), his rate has doubled, leading to a FIP of 4.29. Still, his other numbers (3.45 ERA, 1.14 WHIP) have been good enough to warrant consideration should Morillo or Gabino fail. Even if they don't fail, I'd like to see him in September.
- Anthony Slama is the other side of the Dynamic Duo that the blogosphere dreams about. He too has had a storied minor league career, earning the Minor League Pitcher of the Year award last year, among others. But, for some reason, he has not been promoted to AAA this year. Why? I don't know. His numbers are very good: He has a 3.0 FIP behind a 33.7% K rate and a somewhat high 12% walk rate. I guess they might be keeping him at AA because of the walks, given how important free passes are to this organization. But his numbers suggest he can cut it at the major league level, and he should get his chance to shine this September, whether or not they promote him to Rochester.
The season is nearly lost. The Twins must do something now, and that something is giving some of these talented relief prospects a chance to help this team to the playoffs. If they don't help, at least we know more about them for next year.