When the Twins took a chance on Mike Pelfrey in 2013, you couldn't blame them. In a position where almost any Major League pitcher would constitute an upgrade over existing options, Terry Ryan and his front office supplemented the two-year deal to Kevin Correia with a one-year gamble on Pelfrey. The former Mets pitcher, who once looked like a very interesting young pitcher, gave Minnesota 153 innings of 5.19 ERA baseball.
Independent pitching metrics insisted he wasn't quite that bad (he posted a 3.99 FIP and a 4.54 xFIP), but there was still little reason to go back and offer him a two-year contract considering the team had secured both Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes less than three weeks prior. Clearly the brain trust believed they needed one more veteran to buffer the younger pitchers and ensure they weren't forced into an early promotion.
Some Pelfrey History
Some Pelfrey History
It didn't work out.
Pelfrey made the rotation out of spring training and gave the Twins five sub-standard starts - even by the standards he set in 2013. After walking more batters than he struck out and allowing 23 runs in 23.1 innings, the Twins placed him on the disabled list on May 2 with a groin injury. He never returned, eventually landing on the 60-day disabled list and staying there until the Twins were forced to remove him by the rules of Major League Baseball's off-season less than two weeks ago.
Rotation: Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, Trevor May, Alex Meyer, Tommy Milone
Bullpen: Anthony Swarzak
That's six starters for five spots and one long reliever, who may or may not make the team depending on how comfortable the Twins are in spending millions on a long reliever whose effectiveness could be duplicated by a pitcher at the fraction of the cost.
As things stand, is it feasible for Pelfrey to surpass not just one but two of the starting pitchers on that rotation depth chart? It'd be difficult. If the Twins land Brandon McCarthy or Justin Masterson or make a trade for another starter, it's going to make those chances even slimmer. Barring multiple injuries I can't see how Pelfrey makes the starting five.
The bullpen, on the other hand, is more realistic. By non-tendering Swarzak, there's the possibility that Pelfrey could slide into the long relief role or, if not that, into the role of an over-paid middle reliever.
The Twins owe Pelfrey $5.5 million in 2015. Baseball salaries are guaranteed, so releasing him won't save the Twins any money. If Minnesota wants to recoup any of Pelfrey's salary, they'll need to find a trade partner willing to roster him and pay him at least a portion of his salary. Which seems unlikely.
What's his role for the 2015 team?
Pelfrey is one of the more interesting open-ended cases on the roster right now. The front office essentially has to decide whether they want to pay him to play for Minnesota, or pay him to not play for Minnesota. It's not even a matter of whether or not it's Pelfrey's roster spot to win or lose - only whether or not another pitcher can show the Twins he's worth that roster spot more than a 31-year old right-hander.
If Pelfrey is going to be a part of the 2015 Minnesota Twins, it's doubtful it's as a member of the rotation. Perhaps as a reliever, in shorter excursions, his velocity can inch towards the mid-90s on his fastball and he can make the most of his sink. That could help him to be a very interesting relief option. But that's best case.