Monday, May 14, 2018

Getting Late Early in Relief for Twins

The Minnesota Twins just finished up a four game set with the Los Angeles Angels. By the time Fernando Romero was done with his five innings against Shohei Ohtani, Paul Molitor was tasked with utilizing a bullpen coming off an extra inning affair and quite a bit of recent work. What the Minnesota skipper was also having to deal with, was being a man short from beyond the outfield fence. Phil Hughes was available, but he isn't an option either.

Hughes was jettisoned to the Twins bullpen after flopping in his first two starts of the year. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine likely saw this outcome coming given their decision to start Hughes on the DL out of spring training due to an "injury." Out of the pen, Hughes has been used in only the lowest of leverage situations, and has essentially taken on the role vacated by Tyler Kinley. Unlike the Rule 5 draft pick however, Hughes hums a fastball in at just 91 mph and doesn't really make anyone miss.

The obvious elephant in the room here, is the $26.4 million owed to the former New York Yankees pitcher through 2019. Terry Ryan made an unwise decision in extending Hughes less than a third of the way into his first deal with the Twins. Rather than seeing more of a sample size, the veteran pitcher was given a guarantee after posting an MLB record breaking season in 2014. On the flip side, it'll be on both Falvey and Levine to come to grips with that number being a sunk cost.

Right now, Paul Molitor and Garvin Alston are playing with a deck a few cards shy of a full set. The Twins have employed eight relievers often in the past few years, and that only highlights the importance placed on having quality options available out of the pen. As of May 14th, there's really only seven usable arms at Molitor's disposal.

When going the extra reliever route, a team is suggesting that they're comfortable with a three-man bench. Minnesota has a trio that includes Bobby Wilson, Gregorio Petit, and Robbie Grossman. Outside of Grossman's bat, that group is a combination of journeyman that have more of a scrapiness to them than any distinct characteristics. In short, the lack of another option is a trickle down effect from what is currently taking place in relief.

As things stand now, the Twins are leaving themselves short in the bullpen as well as off the bench, solely because a logical decision on Phil Hughes is being delayed.

At Triple-A, Alan Busenitz is making the choices at the big league level look even more interesting. The owned of a 95 mph fastball and strikeout stuff, currently owns a 1.13 ERA and a 13/2 K/BB ratio across 8.0 IP. A year ago in 35.1 IP, Busenitz posted a 1.78 ERA and 9.9 K/9 for the Rochester Red Wings.

Having made four appearances thus far with the big club in 2018, Busenitz has numbers that need improvement. Allowing three runs in just 4.0 IP, his 6.75 ERA isn't pretty. That small sample size doesn't overshadow the 1.99 ERA he posted in 31.2 IP a season ago however. In fact, I think the realistic performance lies somewhere in between. Busenitz is a better strikeout pitcher than the 6.5 K/9 he tallied in 2017, but he's probably not quite the guy who totaled just a 1.99 ERA either.

At any rate, having Busenitz at his disposal would give Paul Molitor another necessary option out of the pen. Rather than subjecting Zach Duke to overuse against righties, or taxing arms like Taylor Rogers and Trevor Hildenberger, Busenitz could be worked into the mix and provide yet another quality option in a relief corps that's been significantly revamped from a year ago.

Really what it comes down to is that Phil Hughes is the linchpin holding up multiple more adequate roster scenarios for the Twins. It's a tough pill to swallow when you're talking about that kind of money. Deciding to DFA Hughes isn't admitting defeat however. The reality is that he was trending downwards prior to his TOS surgery, and the list of successful recoveries is not a long one. It's time to thank him for what he's done, and push the water level of the club a bit higher.