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An Early Look At The 2011 Bullpen

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The Twins roster is still up in the air for next year. This isn't any different from any year; the league champions still haven't even been decided, and every team has a certain number of question marks at this time of the year. That said, the Twins bullpen is more up in the air than most. Here's a look at the guys in play to be part of the 2011 bullpen, along with their contract status.

  • Joe Nathan will be back next season, barring setback from injury. He'll make $11.25 million; the Twins hold an option on his 2012 season at $12.5 million (with a $2 million buyout.)
  • Jose Mijares will be into his third and final year of serfdom; given that he's spent part of the last two years in the team doghouse, I doubt the club would consider giving him a longer-term deal in order to buy out this year and some or all of his arbitration years.
  • Pat Neshek is arbitration-eligible. He made $625,000 in 2010, and given that he's thrown nine major-league innings over the past two seasons, is unlikely to get a heck of a lot more in arbitration. He'll likely avoid the hearing and re-sign a similar contract - unless the team chooses to dump him, in which case he'd become a free agent.
  • Matt Capps has one more year of being arbitration-eligible. The problem, from the club's point of view: he's an All-Star who saved 42 games in 2010. He'll make a pretty penny at a hearing. There's always the chance the Twins will walk away, but given that they traded a big prospect to get him, and given that there's no guarantee Joe Nathan will come back as the same pitcher, you can probably expect the Twins to offer Capps arbitration and try to work out a contract.
  • Brian Fuentes can stay around for the low, low price of $9 million - the team has an option at that price. (Edit: I'm told this is not true - Fuentes's 2011 option vested only if he finished 55 games, a mark he didn't reach. He's projected as a Type B free agent, though, meaning the Twins might be able to keep him via arbitration if he accepted.) That said, it's unlikely the Twins would keep Fuentes and not Capps, and even if they did he'd be the second-choice closer behind Nathan. He'd be great as another lefty out of the pen, but there's just no way the Twins can afford to spend $30 million or more on three relievers. He's almost a certainty to be gone.
  • Matt Guerrier is a free agent, projected as a Type A free agent - meaning that if the Twins offered him arbitration and he declined, the team would get two high draft picks out of the bargain (a supplemental one at the end of the first round, plus a pick from the team that signed him.) My guess - which is, I stress, nothing more than a hunch - is that the team will offer him arbitration. They'll either get another year of the 32-year-old righty at around $3-4 million, or they'll get a couple of picks out of the deal.
  • Meanwhile, Jesse Crain and Jon Rauch both project as Type B free agents, meaning that the Twins would get only the supplemental pick if they were offered arbitration but declined. Rauch is 32, Crain is 29, and both were frustrating at times for Twins fans this year. That said, Rauch has experience as a closer, and Crain was the best strikeout guy in the Twins 'pen, so both might be able to make more money on the open market than they would in arbitration. With Nathan and Capps potentially approaching $20 million combined, my guess is that the Twins will want a maximum of one of Guerrier, Rauch, and Crain for 2011. The question, though, is who - and will they offer more than one arbitration, in the hopes of grabbing a few extra draft picks?
  • Ron Mahay, Clay Condrey, and Randy Flores are all free agents. The correct response is "I don't care and neither should you."
  • Glen Perkins is finally arbitration-eligible, after the lefty filed a grievance last year in the hopes of becoming eligible (and lost). He spent much of 2010 as a less-than-successful starter in Triple-A, then spent the end of the year as a less-than-successful reliever in the majors. He is, however, left-handed, and if Randy Flores can get and keep a job, then Perkins can. He'd probably make about the same as Neshek, perhaps a little more, if he's offered arbitration. (Most of you think he won't be.)
  • The Twins also have a number of guys who aren't even close to being arbitration-eligible, like Alex Burnett, Anthony Slama, Rob Delaney, and Jeff Manship (to name four guys who pitched in the big leagues this year), plus Kyle Waldrop, who didn't. All five are righthanders.
  • There also is the possibility that Carl Pavano (or another starter from elsewhere) could be on the roster, which would push one of Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Nick Blackburn out of the rotation. Since all three have long-term deals... they could end up pitching out of the bullpen, with Slowey probably the front-runner to do so unless Baker can't get healthy.

Here's how I have these guys separated into categories, in my mind:

Pretty Certain: Nathan, Mijares
Seems Likely: Capps, Perkins (because he's left-handed and cheap)
Free Agent Roulette: Guerrier, Rauch, Crain
Back Unless He's In The Doghouse Permanently: Neshek
Gone: Fuentes, Condrey, Mahay, Flores
Close Your Eyes And Pick One (Or Two Or Three): Burnett, Slama, Delaney, Manship, Waldrop
Has A Contract, Not Afraid To Use It: Blackburn, Slowey, Baker

My prediction, having considered everything: Nathan, Capps, Mijares, Perkins, Guerrier, Neshek, Slama. But that's just me guessing.

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