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Haven't we heard this record before?

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Have the Twins learned from their past mistakes? It depends on how you choose to judge: on process, or on results.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

It can be hard to justify the actions of a front office that makes two moves of note over an entire winter, particularly when it's on behalf of a team that was on the verge of a playoff spot following four pretty terrible seasons. There are mitigating conditions, of course. After adding Byung Ho Park and John Ryan Murphy on the position player side the offense was more or less full (perhaps too full). Outside of a legitimate ace starting pitcher, there was no need to add another mid-level arm for the rotation considering the array of options already in-house.

That only leaves the bullpen. Mike Bates' criticism is accurate, but Ted softens the blow a bit. Both have good points and yet somehow the arguments sound familiar. It feels like we've had this discussion about Minnesota's roster construction philosophies, and resulting bullpen options, before.

And we have. Not just here, but in all corners of Twins Territory. When we went over the Twins' bullpen options 13+ months ago, one point was made that the Twins swapped out Jared Burton and Anthony Swarzak. It was to make room for young arms who had not yet arrived, to make room for that one starter who didn't make the rotation, and it was to make room for minor league signings. While Blaine Boyer was a fine stop gap solution, none of those options really worked out for Minnesota.

  1. The Twins committed all of 26 innings to young arms in the bullpen: 2.2 to Alex Meyer and 23.1 to Michael Tonkin. Nick Burdi and Jake Reed had false starts, Zack Jones wasn't able to properly develop his secondary pitches, and J.T. Chargois was still shaking off some rust.
  2. Mike Pelfrey was supposed to be in the bullpen out of spring training, but was forced into the rotation when Ervin Santana received his 80-game suspension. The team did put starter Trevor May into the bullpen, but that was out of desperation later in the season and not because he wasn't good enough for the starting five. We'll come back to that point in a moment.
  3. None of Minnesota's minor league signings made any lasting impact. Boyer pitched well enough, but not well enough to earn a multi-year role with the organization.
Here we are a year later and the organization has approached the bullpen with the exact same philosophy. The bullpen that finished last in strikeout rate, 24th in FIP, 28th in xFIP, and 20th in opponent OPS in 2015 is relying on the same strategy for this year: cut a couple of easy-decision bullpen arms loose, rely on the young arms, have an abundance of rotation options. Perhaps the front office made overtures to free agents or explored options on the trade market, but not one reliever of significance was brought in. So how do you judge: on the process that the front office undertook to improve the club, or on the results of that process?

Granted, the good end of the Twins' bullpen is alright. Glen Perkins is one of the best closers in the American League when he's healthy. Kevin Jepsen proved himself a highly effective option at the end of games with the club during last season's stretch run. Casey Fien had a down season but is still effective. Trevor May posted a 2.87 ERA in the bullpen, while striking out 37 in 31.1 frames.

Yet is that a good thing, or is it an example of the organization's lack of creativity in its approach to roster construction? May's critics will point to the fact that he averaged just 5.1 innings per start in 2015, but he was still the most talented starting pitcher that the Twins had developed and debuted since Francisco Liriano. An organization that had been slammed for years for developing starters who "pitch to contact," regardless of how that phrase is interpreted, was so desperate for help in the bullpen that they made the decision to disrupt the player's long-term development for short-term gains.

The club's decisions make sense in context; the Twins had options for the rotation that it didn't have in relief - even if it didn't address those needs fully at the trade deadline. Yet it seems as though those circumstances have dictated the club's approach to roster building for 2016. For whatever efforts the front office made over the winter, nothing happened, and we're left with another illustration of how the organization sees the status quo as its blueprint for the future. It's no guarantee that it won't work this year, but we know it didn't work last year.

The Twins are who they are. They have more money to spend and their draft philosophy has changed over the last half decade, but when it comes to roster construction it seems like they've settled into their nook. That approach has its strengths; it's good to know who you are, and risk-averse is definitely a strategy that can bring some stability.

But in an off-season where the club was being challenged to up their ante, it didn't happen. Trevor Plouffe wasn't traded, the rotation was left untouched, and the bullpen is being asked to be better than last year even though the approach to its construction hasn't changed.

Having confidence in the youth movement and getting creative in roster construction aren't mutually exclusive ideas. I know that the Twins understand this. It's just that once again with this bullpen, we're left to judge process versus results and it feels like we're still listening to the same record.