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Why it's okay that the Twins won't call up Jose Berrios

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As much as we all wanted to see yet another vaunted rookie make his Twins debut in 2015, holding fire could be the prudent decision.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Jose Berrios is Major League-ready. Let's get that out of the way. In terms of talent, attitude, preparation, performance, work ethic, you name it, the kid is ready to go. He has nothing left to prove to anyone.

On Wednesday morning Bryz put together a half-baked argument for why the Twins hadn't yet (at the time) called Berrios to the Major Leagues. Part of his consternation was the fact that Terry Ryan and the organization's brain trust hadn't really given a reason as to what was happening and why, simply saying that they "hadn't ruled out" bringing Berrios to Minnesota with the Red Wings' season was over.

Since that time, the Twins have announced that they won't be bringing Berrios up for a cup of coffee this year. Ryan played the workload card. Here's Ryan to MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger:

"I've been thinking about this for a while since I came back from there. But we're going to send him home once the season concludes. He's had a fine year, and I don't want to risk him getting hurt. He's near the amount of innings we wanted him to get to, so we don't want to take any chances with him."

~snip~

"It was difficult," Ryan said. "We're all sensitive to the innings, and there's no question that's a factor. He's also about 5-foot-11, 187 pounds, so it's not like this is a 6-4, 200-pounder. So I'm a little concerned we don't do any damage when he's built up a good resume."

All of that is well and good, and you have to give credit to Ryan for doing what he thinks is best for the development of the player in the face of some pretty heavy public criticism. But the arguments that support the decision to leave Berrios in Triple-A goes beyond the inning limit, and they were all legitimate reasons for leaving the talented right-hander out of the call-up list prior to Ryan's announcement.

Are these reasons enough for you to understand, if not support, the Twins' decision? Maybe not, and that's okay. We'll start with the obvious argument.

Innings Limit

As knowledge of a pitcher's arm and of a young athlete's body maturing has grown, so has the nature of how much playing time teams will give to young prospects. In 2015, Berrios has give the Lookouts and Red Wings 161.1 innings, a career high over the 140 innings he threw in 2014 and over the 103.2 innings from 2013.

Year Age Innings % Increase
2013 19 103.2 238%
2014 20 140.0 35%
2015 21 161.1 16%

If Berrios was 24 years old, there's a good chance that the Twins wouldn't be as conservative in their approach. After all, they're sending Taylor Rogers to the Arizona Fall League after throwing a career-high 168 innings this year. For someone who's been 21 for almost three and a half months, being willing to take the foot off of the gas pedal is a good thing.

Granted, the Twins could have approached this situation differently. The Yankees capped Luis Severino's innings all season so that he would be available to help the Major League team later in the summer, and he's only three months older than Berrios. Minnesota has chosen to allow Berrios to go his full capability every game, however. It's not a worse way to do things by any means, but New York has been able to get some value out of Severino this year as a result of their approach.

Availability

Let's pretend that the Twins had decided that Berrios could pitch to 170 or 175 innings this season. How would that have translated for the big league club? As one or, maybe, two starts, or alternatively, as perhaps four or five relief appearances. After that Berrios would had to have been shut down anyway, being unable to help the team in the playoffs (if it should transpire), and depending on how the rotation option was approached it could also force the team into bringing a pitcher back into the fold who had been forced out of it by Berrios' arrival.

All of these things could have been worked around. Paul Molitor could have gone with a six-man rotation for one or two turns, for example. But there's no guarantee of performance, and it's also worth noting that Berrios hasn't been groomed as a reliever. The Twins would need him to be able to step into that role and immediately be effective, a la Trevor May, and that's not a performance that can be assumed.

Service Time

This is probably the least important aspect of this argument, but that doesn't make it any less true. By waiting until 2016 to call up Berrios, the Twins will maintain team control through 2021. Had they called up Berrios this month, they'd have him under control through 2020. Granted, money would be a part of his equation, but the part to remember here is the whole extra season where the Twins control the player. The gains of that extra season have to outweigh what little impact a single 21-year old pitcher could give the team through five or ten Major League innings; Berrios could reach free agency in time for his age-28 season now instead of his age-27 season. Sure, this isn't why the Twins did what they did, but it's not a bad bonus.

40-Man Roster Considerations

Regardless of the innings limit, or playing time considerations, or years of team control remaining, this is the big issue for me. The 40-man roster controls how many players a team can call up in September, yes, but it also controls how many good young prospects you can control.

The Rule 5 draft looms large here. Players are eligible for the Rule 5 draft if they have been in the system for four years if they were drafted/signed at 19 years of age or older and not on the 40-man roster, or for five years if they were drafted/signed at 18 years of age or younger and not on the 40-man roster. Berrios is not yet eligible for the Rule 5, but a number of other promising young players are. This means that unless they're added to the 40-man roster after this season, the Twins could lose:

  • Adam Brett Walker II
  • Taylor Rogers
  • Felix Jorge
  • Zack Jones
  • J.T. Chargois
  • Travis Harrison
  • Engleb Vielma
  • Levi Michael
  • Mason Melotakis
  • D.J. Baxendale
  • Levi Michael
  • Tim Shibuya
  • Randy Rosario
  • Cole Johnson

To be sure, that's not a complete list. How many of those players would hurt the organization if they were drafted? Or perhaps the better question is: which of those players would you be willing to lose for five to ten innings of Jose Berrios?

Whatever Berrios may have given the Twins in those five to ten innings will not be so much better than his existing replacement as to make it worth sacrificing the best prospects on that list. Room on the 40-man roster is limited for any organization, but that's especially true for Minnesota - a team that is quickly being forced to add young talent or risk losing it. Kennys Vargas could have maybe not been taken in the 2013 Rule 5 draft, but the Twins added him anyway and I think we're all glad they did. Max Kepler wasn't a guarantee to be taken in last December's Rule 5, but he was eligible and so the Twins made the decision to protect him, and I think we're all glad they did.

At a minimum, the Twins will want to protect anywhere from five to eight players before the 2015 Rule 5 draft. Mike Berardino lists eight players he believes should be a priority, but his list excludes the fast-rising Levi Michael and potential bullpen arm Cole Johnson. The fact is that the Twins will not be able to protect ten players this winter, nor eight. They might be pushed to protect five, simply because that much roster rollover is difficult to achieve while still leaving yourself room to A) buy a free agent or two, and B) have players on the roster that you feel you could lose during the season when you inevitably need to make a roster change.

In theory, every team wants a 40-man roster full of starting players and prospects that could help the Major League team at any time. That's not reality. That kind of a roster leaves its club with zero flexibility, and would inevitably hurt the future of the team by eventually forcing the club into decisions it does not want to make.

After the 2015 season, maybe the Twins don't sign any of their five free agents. Maybe they non-tender a couple of their eight arbitration-eligible players. Maybe they even take a look at outrighting one or two other players. If we're being that optimistic, that's 11 players off of the 40-man roster. Until you add Ricky Nolasco and Ryan Pressly, which brings you back to nine open roster spots.

Just do the math. Maybe you want to sign a couple of relievers to shore up the rickety bullpen, maybe you want to find another catcher to pair with Kurt Suzuki, maybe you want to protect as many of those prospects from the Rule 5 draft as you can. Those nine spots disappear very quickly.

There's a way for the Twins to add Jose Berrios to the 40-man roster now and still do what you need to do over the winter, but it's already tight as it is. There's already next to zero flexibility for the roster, and I have to question how much of that is worth burning for a few innings of Berrios.

Just like everything else on this list, there are ways around this problem; let Michael, Jones, Johnson, and Jorge be exposed to the Rule 5, for example. But just like everything else on this list, would finding a work-around be worth it?

Conclusions

There's an argument for finding a way to get Berrios to the Twins. Of course there is. His talent is undeniable.

Yet if the Twins don't make the playoffs in 2015, it's not because the club missed a half dozen innings from a 21-year old right-handed pitcher. If the Twins had called up Berrios and then made the playoffs, it wouldn't have been because that 21-year old right-hander was on the roster. Whatever happens to Minnesota in 2015, it's going to happen because of the performance of the team. No single individual, not even Miguel Sano, is going to deliver the Minnesota Twins to their fate in front of the baseball gods.

The career of Berrios will be no worse for waiting until early 2016 for his Major League debut. There are enough arms for the rotation down the stretch, and there are now enough talented arms in the bullpen, to see this club through to the end of the season. With the exception of Ervin Santana, all of them (unlike Berrios) will be able to pitch in October if it becomes their privilege.

"A lot of people who follow this club are going to shake their heads and say, 'you're in a pennant chase.'" Ryan said. "And we are. But the right thing for the kid is to send him home. So that's the decision that was made today and was given to him. He's a respectful kid, and I'm sure he's not happy, but it's what we're going to do."

This was never going to be an easy decision. Regardless of whether you find the above arguments a legitimate way of explaining the organization's decision, the debate will go on. I'm interested to hear what you think.