Monday, March 14, 2016

Cuts And Compounded Problems

Over the weekend, the Minnesota Twins made their first rounds of cuts this spring. While nearly all of them were expected, the timing of at least one seems a bit premature. On top of the roster thinking out, Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor seem to be dealt a tough hand when it comes to one near guaranteed big leaguer.

Minnesota sent Reynaldo Rodriguez, Engelb Vielma, Alex Swim, Heiker Meneses, and Jake Reed over to the minor league side of the Lee County Sports Complex on Sunday. Despite Vielma being a defensive wizard, and Rodriguez getting some decent run this spring, the group was far from unexpected. It is however interesting to see Reed let go this early. The 2014 5th round draft pick from Oregon has been touted as a potential bullpen piece as soon as the 2016 season. Despite knowing he'll need some more time on the farm, the argument could have been made to keep him around a bit longer.

Reed struggled through a 6.32 ERA at Double-A Chattanooga last season, but proved well above the Florida State League upon a demotion. Once again he dominated the Arizona Fall League, and he positioned himself well going into the year. With a 3.00 ERA and a 1/2 K/BB ratio through 3.0 IP, he didn't do anything to set himself back.

For the Twins pen options, Reed settles in among the glut of options along with Nick Burdi, J.T. Chargois, Mason Melotakis and others. He's probably going to debut sometime this summer, and it'll likely be after the first two options, but there's no doubt that the California native is capable of getting hitters out at the highest level. Regardless of his reassignment date, Reed controls his own destiny at this point, and betting against him doesn't appear a worthy cause.

When it comes to the bullpen, there's few areas the Twins will put a larger focus on in the year ahead. That said, they've got the unfortunate reality of a pitcher being forced into a situation. In trying to rework what was a pen that struck no one out, and was largely ineffective a year ago, Ricky Nolasco is giving Minnesota fits. At this point, the question becomes just what too large of a negative actually looks like.

Nolasco who was fighting for a starting role in theory much more than reality, appeared destined for the pen. The unfortunate development is that he's actually pitched this spring, and it's been about as bad as imagined. In three outings, he's given up three earned runs twice (once in just 1.1 IP) and compiled a hideous 7.36 ERA in just 7.1 IP. He owns a mediocre 7/3 K/BB ratio, and has surrendered 11 hits thus far. By all measures, he's been ineffective at best, and borderline awful at worst.

What compounds the problem for the Twins is the dollar amount hanging over Nolasco's head. Owed over $24 million through the next two seasons, Terry Ryan is going to be faced with a decision. Given their body of work, the argument for Burdi, Ryan Pressly, and maybe even J.R. Graham over Nolasco in the pen could be made. It comes down to whether or not the Twins are willing to continue to be hurt by a poor decision.

In paying a mediocre NL starter over someone with more upside (a la Phil Hughes) what they did, the Twins were always looking at an uphill battle with the former Marlins starter. Now the contract being a sunk cost, does Paul Molitor want to continue to be plagued by an ineffective arm simply because of the contract? Minnesota doesn't have a ton of options with Ricky, he's not going to accept an assignment to Triple-A. Should the club choose to DFA him and wash their hands however, they may stop the bleeding well before the financial implications cease to exist.

As more cuts are made this spring, it will continue to be worth monitoring what relief arms remain. Fernando Abad looks to continue to be the left-handed front runner, having surrenders a lone run on a solo homer. Burdi doesn't seem to be a 25 man option, but only pushes his MLB debut closer the longer he remains in big league camp. With a handful of young options sprinkled in with vets on minor league deals, it'll be interesting to see if any of them defy the odds and unseat the likes of Michael Tonkin or some other yet predetermined arm.

For now, Jake Reed has begun his turnaround season, and Ricky Nolasco has done anything but warrant a spot on the big league club. The story is just being written, but the 2016 Twins are well underway.