Though still at least two weeks away, the return of injured pitchers Ervin Santana and Trevor May looms on the horizon for the Minnesota Twins. As both pitchers started (or retroactively started) the season on the 60-day DL, both will be eligible to be activated on May 28th. In fact, May is making his first rehab start today for the High-A Ft. Myers Miracle.
Activating Santana and May will require space on the 40-man and 25-man rosters, both of which are currently full. Furthermore, the Twins starting rotation is also full, with Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, Lance Lynn, and hot newcomer Fernando Romero. Assuming no one is injured before Santana and May are ready to be activated, how will the Twins make space for all these guys?
Some of the answers to this conundrum seem obvious, while others more nuanced. Here’s what the team is probably going to do.
Active May and option him to Triple-A
Funny thing about Trevor May: he still has one option left. Considering he’s returning from Tommy John surgery and hasn’t pitched in over a year, I just can’t see the front office throwing him right back into the majors when they could easily send him to the minors to work on getting back up to snuff. With the bullpen and rotation currently full, it makes all the sense in the world.
May, of course, will still need a spot on the 40-man roster, but that doesn’t seem to be much of a problem either. The Twins called up journeymen Gregorio Petit and Bobby Wilson when Miguel Sano and Jason Castro hit the 10-day DL, and I expect both of those journeyman to be DFAed as soon as Sano and Castro are activated. DFAing Petit and Wilson will open up two spots on the 40-man roster, and then May can just will one — assuming at least Sano or Castro is activated before May is activated.
As for whether May will move back into a starting role or stay in the bullpen, I am unsure. The team had previously talked about stretching May back out into a starter, but now that they have a full rotation in the majors, they might change their minds.
DFA Matt Magill to make space for Santana
When it comes to making roster space for Ervin Santana, the answer seems pretty obvious: DFA Matt Magill. If you have no idea who I’m talking about, don’t worry. Magill is 28-year-old, minor-league journeyman the Twins seemed to call up out of nowhere a recently, and he’s just been living in the bullpen not doing too much. He’s an easily expendable player who would free up a spot for Santana on both the 25-man and 40-man rosters, and heck, there’s a good chance no one would even bother claiming Magill anyway (not that it would matter much if someone did).
What about the starting rotation?
Clearing technical roster space for May and Santana is the easy part. The harder part is what the team will actually use them for once they are back, particularly Santana.
As mentioned, the Twins rotation is currently full, but Santana is and always has been a starting pitcher. Hence, it seems like the Twins have three choices for action once Santana returns.
1. Move one of the starters to the bullpen
Let’s call this one “The Phil Hughes Option”, as this is exactly what the team did with Phil Hughes when they called up Fernando Romero. The Twins could move one of their starters to the bullpen to make room in the rotation for Ervin Santana, and as of now, the most likely candidate would probably be Lance Lynn. Lynn current has a -0.1 fWAR on the year, which is the worst in the rotation. His 7.28 ERA, .375 BABIP, and 6.98 BB/9 are also all currently the worst in the rotation.
How would Lynn react to the demotion, though? And do the Twins really need a Phil Hughes and a Lance Lynn in the bullpen? That seems like overkill in a very bad way.
The Twins could also opt to start Santana in the bullpen as a way of easing him back into pitching, but isn’t that what rehab assignments are for? If Santana comes back as a more capable starter than Lynn has been, starting him in the bullpen would not make sense.
2. DFA one of the starters
If you read the preceding section, you probably know where this section is going. The Twins could simply DFA their lowest performing starter, and as discussed, that would be Lynn. Considering Lynn signed to a pretty cheap, one-year deal, it wouldn’t be a huge loss for the Twins financially, but still feels like a bit of a waste. Lynn has shown some promise in helping the team, and the depth is kind of nice. The Twins could also try trading Lynn, but I’m not so sure many teams are pounding down the door for his services, especially considering how long it took him to get a deal in the offseason.
Another option here would be to DFA Phil Hughes, and then move Lynn to the bullpen as the new Phil Hughes. Hughes hasn’t really done anything this season — he was injured, then made two failed starts, and has made two other appearances out of the bullpen. His 7.00 ERA over 9.0 innings pitched isn’t much to look at. However, the Twins do owe him $13.5 million for this year and $13.5 million for next year, so they seem determined to get something out of him. Still, at some point, they may just have to consider Hughes a sunk cost.
3. Option one of the starters
Two of the pitchers currently in the Twins rotation still have options left, and could simply be sent down to Triple-A until they are needed again. The problem with this route is that those two pitchers are two of the Twins’ best: Jose Berrios and Fernando Romero.
I wouldn’t completely rule out the Twins deciding to option these guys, however. While Berrios started the year off brilliantly, he has been struggling ever since the series in Puerto Rico. Over his past four starts, he has given up 18 earned runs — including six home runs — over 18.1 innings. He’s also only struck out eleven batters over that time. If Berrios doesn’t turn things around before Santana returns, the Twins could very well send him back to Triple-A for some fixing.
While Romero hasn’t been struggling at all, he’s only made two starts in the majors. No, he hasn’t given up any runs yet, but he will eventually. The question here is really if Romero will continue being roughly as dominant as he has been, or if the batters and scouts will eventually catch up to him. I mean, Berrios looked pretty great to start the year, and look what happened to him. If Romero suddenly blows up, the Twins could easily option the youngster back to Triple-A — but I think we’re all hoping that doesn’t happen.
Of course, there’s a good chance some sort of injury will come about before May and Santana are ready to rejoin the team, rendering this entire discussion obsolete. Hopefully though, that doesn’t happen. The team will have to make some tough choices in that case, but hey, actually having too many pitchers isn’t the worst problem to have.