Saturday, March 28, 2015

Twins Reduce Clarity With Roster Cuts

This morning, first year manager Paul Molitor announced the next handful of roster cuts for the Minnesota Twins. As the team whittles down its roster to 25 players prior to Opening Day a week from Monday, the group of Fort Myers is going to get smaller. With 31 players now left in camp, Molitor has six more players he must send packing. The latest round however may have caused more confusion than clarity.

Amongst the roster moves this morning, the Minnesota Twins elected to send out position players Eddie Rosario and Aaron Hicks. Both outfielders will head to Triple-A Rochester to begin the 2015 season. Relief pitcher Mark Hamburger was also optioned as well as starter Trevor May. Both pitchers will head to the Red Wings as well. With the moves, it was also announced that Tommy Milone would open as the Twins fifth and final starter, with Mike Pelfrey transitioning to the bullpen.

No matter how you break it down, Saturday was by far the most integral day of roster shuffling the Twins have seen thus far. With the plethora of decisions made, the roster is taking shape. That being said, there's no doubt that a few of the moves made cause reason for confusion.

Starting with the outfield, namely centerfield, both Hicks and Rosario were sent packing. Thus far during the spring, we have heard that neither Hicks nor Rosario would stick with the club in a rotational capacity. They would either be named the starter, or would be sent packing. The curious part of the equation is that those sentiments seemed to be in unison with one another. Either Rosario or Hicks would start, as it never appeared likely that Jordan Schafer or Shane Robinson were viable candidates.

That brings us to where we are now. The Twins are heading into 2015 with some opportunity to outperform expectations. No one is banking on them being a playoff team, but if all things break right, they could squeak in. That being said, the upcoming season is about figuring out who you have to pair with the arrival of the talented youth on the way. Rosario still very much remains of that grouping, but the problem is Aaron Hicks.

Hicks, a former first round pick for the Twins, has struggled mightily at the major league level. After an impressive 2013 spring training, he was promoted to the starting role from Double-A, despite being more of a tools prospect than the refined category of a Byron Buxton. Last year, for the first time in his career, a demotion allowed him to successively progress through both the Double-A and Triple-A levels. He did so while hitting for average, getting on base, and playing solid centerfield defense. Today's move suggest the Twins aren't looking to substantiate that at the major league level and the big question is why? Figuring out what Hicks has to give you prior to turning Buxton and Rosario loose seems to be an integral thing to unlock. Doing so out of the gate with a strong end to the 2014 season made the most sense. Now it would appear the Twins have created more questions than answers.

In moving on from Hicks to start the season, Molitor is giving the centerfield job to Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson. He has said he will "play matchups" but that it won't be a straight platoon situation. While that's great in theory, by and large, that is what's going to take place. The problem there is that a platoon is designed to allow a batter to exploit his talents against a certain type of pitcher.

Neither Robinson nor Schafer possess any real ability at the plate. Schafer owns a .229 career average, and was under the Mendoza line last season before coming over from the Braves. Sure he hit .285 for the Twins, but there's no way the production is sustainable. As an outfielder owning a UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) of -8.4, he's not someone you ideally want starting in center either.

On the other side of the equation, Robinson fooled no one with a breakout season at the plate. He spent much of 2014 in Triple-A for the Cardinals. His career UZR of 7.8 is indicative of his billing as a defensive outfielder, but his career average suggests he's virtually a guaranteed out as well. At the end of the day, Molitor and the Twins appear to have looked past Aaron Hicks at the juncture that may result in them getting another opportunity to do so.

Looking at the mound, normalcy has likely been achieved. As Mike Palfrey heads to the pen with Milone rounding out the rotation, the Twins know how things will start. Palfrey voiced displeasure suggesting he was told he'd be given a chance to start, and that he didn't believe he'd be destined for the pen. This morning, he went as far as saying if there are clubs who believe in him as a starter, he would be open to moving on.

To be fair, the competition likely never included Palfrey from the get go. While he posted a sub 2.00 ERA this spring, 13.2 innings were never going to be enough to extrapolate any information that multiple years of bad starting pitching wouldn't overshadow. Trevor May pitched well, and despite his rough outing on Friday, he was always going to be in an uphill battle. Malone is a proven commodity and pitched well on a solid Oakland team. Minnesota should expect him to return to that form this season.

Despite being upset about his new role, Pelfrey actually could extend his career this way. With the ability to push the radar gun to around 97 in a less stamina related role, he could overpower hitters to a much larger extent. While Wade Davis is the golden example, if Palfrey can follow that path and become even close to that level, the Twins stand to gain a lot with this decision. Should Palfrey be focused on starting, the Twins could look to the Mets, Blue Jays, and maybe even the Red Sox as options. The problem is that a bad starting pitcher is probably going to net them less in a trade, even if that team needs an arm, than what they would find out by having him relieve first.

At the end of Saturday, we know a lot more about how the Twins will look when they head north. Some of it is easy to agree with (sorry Pelf, the pen is home now), and some doesn't make sense (Hicks now becomes a bigger question mark than he was before). As the Twins embark on their last week in Florida, look for the backup catcher role to be determined, and Eduardo Nunez to continue to be evaluated.

Let's hope we aren't having another frustrating discussion involving Kennys Vargas later this week. The Twins are at the mercy of injury when it comes to Josmil Pinto, and if they have to bring Chris Herrmann north because of it, so be it. That being said, lets shoot for a bit higher ceiling with the rest of the decisions alright brain trust?