Friday, March 22, 2019

Twins Trickle Down in Full Effect

Today, six days before Minnesota welcomes the Cleveland Indians to Target Field, the Twins sent star pitcher Fernando Romero to Triple-A. The once highly-touted starting pitching prospect had been transitioned to relief work this spring. He was talked up as having electric stuff and being a real weapon out of Rocco Baldelli’s pen. Unfortunately, when the rubber met the road, there was more seasoning to be had. That isn’t the problem, but the fallout is.

Across 9.2 IP down in Fort Myers, Romero coughed up 10 runs (nine earned) and fanned seven while walking eight. He had started out strong, and really faltered down the stretch. With Opening Day firmly in focus, the decision had to be made. Romero was going to need more time settling into his new role for Rochester.

While it’s more than fair to suggest keeping Romero stretched out as a starter would’ve made sense, the consensus could be that he simply isn’t cut out for it. Regardless of the feelings from 1 Twins Way, the reality is that Romero is now going to upstate New York and will work a couple times a week throwing something like 20 pitches per outing. It will groom him for the role outlined for him in 2019 but doesn’t do much to help development as a rotation factor in the years ahead. We now know Romero’s path, and it was written on the wall for a matter of days now, but this is where Minnesota’s offseason starts to fall apart.

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine failed to address pitching in almost any capacity. Blake Parker and Martin Perez have the chops to be nice additions, but they do little to raise the overall water level of the group, and don’t enhance depth at all. Going into Spring Training, Romero was viewed as (and talked about from team officials) as a key cog in this pitching staff. The minute that didn’t happen, things start to crumble. Add in the fact that Addison Reed hasn’t looked good at all, is now hurt with a trip to the IL possible, and things get rather bleak quick.

Non-roster invitees Ryne Harper and Tim Collins are the two biggest names left in camp vying for one bullpen spot. Both have shown incredibly well, and Collins was a big name a few years ago for the Royals. It’s commendable that both have seized their opportunity, but them factoring onto an Opening Day roster that should have a divisional opportunity in front of them is a result of poor planning.

Collins threw just over 20 innings with the Nationals last year. He was just ok, and he hasn’t been a big-league staple since 2013. His last (and only) truly good year was 2012, and he’s now both aged and gone under the knife since then. Harper has displayed a Bugs Bunny curveball but he’s a near-30-year-old career minor leaguer. He posted a 5.19 ERA at Triple-A Rochester last season, and while the strikeout and walk rates have both been great on the farm, no one has ever deemed it worthy of a callup.

Neither option, Collins or Harper, is at fault for this. If nothing else, they’re doing everything in their power to be the solution to an organizational problem. By relying solely on the emergence of Romero, or the breakout of Matt Magill, Minnesota’s brass balked at opportunities to sign Joakim Soria, Kelvin Herrera, Brad Brach, Adam Ottavino, or even Craig Kimbrel. Martin Perez could’ve been added with another starter, allowing the “loser” to go to the pen. Any number of options could’ve been explored, but the suggestion was that we have this figured out.

Maybe a handful of months from now we’ll look back on this as much ado about nothing. Romero could figure it out quick at Triple-A, come up and immediately be the weapon he was billed as. Maybe Collins or Harper will stick, and the front office will look great for their conviction. The flip side, however, is that the already non-existent depth is being exposed before Opening Day, and we know more names are going to be called upon.

Paying relievers, and pitchers in general, is a fickle business practice. Good teams don’t let the elite pitchers get away and cashing in on high quality relievers before they go belly up is a smart practice. Playing in the minefield of free agency for these types is dicey, but unless you have a reliable stable on your own, targeting strong depth that pushes everyone else down a rung makes a ton of sense.

The expectation for this club should be, and will remain, that the lineup will hit. Production 1-9 from this group should be plenty to win games on a nightly basis. Where they might lose the credibility comes in the form of trust placed on a suspect pitching staff serving up many more questions than answers. Right now, the front office believes in depth arms, I’m not ready to support them in that though. Here’s to hoping it’s this blogger with egg on his face.