It may have been something of a foregone conclusion, but last night the Twins announced that they would be declining Jared Burton's $3.6 million option for 2015. Instead they have bought the option out for $200,000, and Burton will head to free agency.
Burton was one of the non-invitee favorites back in the spring of 2012, and he stepped up to become Glen Perkins' top set-up man that season by giving Minnesota 62 innings of 2.18 ERA baseball. He retired 22.5% of batters on strikes while holding them to a decent 7.8% walk rate. He allowed less than a base runner per inning as batters scraped together a .183 batting average.
Things started to come undone a bit last year and then it all snowballed. His final line for 2013 isn't bad but the warning signs of a decline were there, and fastball velocity doesn't lie: Burton's averaged 92.9mph in 2012 91.5 this season. Losing a mile and a half off of the fastball is significant, especially when the velocity was only a tick above league average in the first place.
The departure of Burton after three years in the Twins' bullpen means that there could be a good deal of turnover in the relief corps. Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak are both non-tender candidates, Sam Deduno is already out the door, and with Burton now gone it means there's potential for four of the top seven inning-eaters from the bullpen to be turned over.
It does allow room for growth for both Caleb Thielbar and Michael Tonkin. Ryan Pressly continues to not strike anyone out but has a 3.60 ERA in 105 innings for the Twins. That's not bad for a Rule 5 guy. Mike Pelfrey's $5.5 million dollar salary is still on the payroll. Alex Meyer and Trevor May both deserve to be on the pitching staff somewhere. Lester Oliveros struck out 52 batters in 35.1 innings in Triple-A. Suffice it to say that there should be plenty of room to give experience to younger pitchers who need Major League experience.
The Twins are going to look different in 2015, as they start to remold themselves and make room for players who will - hopefully - lead to the next winning season and post-season appearance. Burton's departure should be just the start.