Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Board is Set and the Pieces are Moving: Part Two

Hello again. Today we've finally delivered on that long-awaited Part Two of the post Ryan began two weeks ago. Also, if you care to read it, Ryan posted a little manifesto of sorts yesterday. Changes will be coming to Twins Chatter over the next few weeks, so be prepared.

A couple of weeks ago we took a look at the Twins position players for next year. The Twins have their entire pitching staff coming back for another run at the AL Central title. With the addition of some major league ready prospects like JD Durbin and Jesse Crain for a full season, the Twins can expect to have a strong staff. We said it repeatedly last year that anytime a team boasts a frontline starter like Johan Santana, a horse like Brad Radke and someone to shut the door ala' Joe Nathan, they have a pretty good chance to win playoff games. That formula came just short against the Yankees. This year could see the emergence of an even better staff creating possibilities come October.

Today we will take a brief look at what we believe will be the team's opening day pitching staff including some possible dark horses going to spring training.

Number 1 Starter -

It all starts with Johan Santana. The Twins need him to continue to be the most dominant pitcher in baseball. The last three years Santana has improved while throwing more innings in each. It would have been nice for him to have received a long-term deal this winter and there is still time for it to happen. Santana lost his arbitration case last year and is in danger of going back again. Based on some quiet comments he has made, there could be some bad blood between him and the organization and something like arbitration, where a player hears what his weaknesses are, doesn't help. There is also the concern of his workload eventually catching up with him. He has been a relatively healthy pitcher but he threw more innings last year then ever before and that can often be a concern. Anytime a team can throw someone like Johan Santana every 5th day it takes a lot of pressure off the other 4 guys in the rotation.

Number 2 Starter-

Brad Radke signed for a discounted rate this past winter. He has been the stalwart of the rotation for the last decade. He remains the perfect compliment to Santana. He is calm, effective and throws a lot of innings giving the team a chance to win every time he starts.

Number 3 Starter -

Carlos Silva emerged last year after coming over from Philadelphia. His production exceeded almost everyone's expectations. It remains a question of whether he can do it again. He struggled during the middle of last season and had some problems giving up too many hits. He was then ineffective during his start in the playoffs. More then any other pitcher on the staff he may suffer the most from the drop-off in fielding behind him. He is probably better suited as a 4th or 5th starter.

Number 4 Starter -

Kyle Lohse had a rough season last year to say the least. He has struggled to be consistent and at times appeared to be pitching without a plan. The direction he takes this year will be a big factor in how well the Twins do. He is capable of being a good major league pitcher but if he continues to struggle it may be time for the Twins to look elsewhere.

Number 5 Starter -

Last season, Terry Mulholland fell into this spot. He did remarkably well considering he is very old and it had been several years since he had started regularly let alone pitched well. Mulholland will have a chance to make this team again but ideally it would be as a rubber armed long man out of the bullpen. That leaves this spot for JD Durbin or Joe Mays to win. Durbin had the year of seasoning he needed in the minors and should be ready to make the adjustment this year. He looked overly excited in his brief appearances last season but has had an entire winter to get the butterflies out of his system. Mays remains the forgotten man. He did not pitch last year while costing the Twins millions of dollars in what is the worst Twin's contract in recent memory. Before he began experiencing arm troubles Mays had a pretty good year in 2001 and if he can come close to approaching those numbers it would go a long way towards solidifying the rotation. After all the Twins are paying him the big bucks they might as well get some production out of him.

Closer -

Joe Nathan is the Twins All-Star closer and with his nasty slider and 95 mph plus fastball he will continue to dominant this season.

Right-handed Setup -

Juan Rincon had a great year last year as part of the Twins 1-2 bullpen punch. The hope here is that there are no lingering ill effects from how he ended the year against the Yankees. The best bet is Rincon will put it behind him and be as strong as ever.

Right-handed Setup -

It is time for Jesse Crain to emerge into this role. He pitched very effectively after his call-up last year but remained in the bullpen as the Twins lost the second game to the Yankees in extra innings. This year, it should be expected that Crain can handle those pressure situations and take some of the workload away from Nathan and Rincon. It is a great luxury to have 3 great relievers and especially important for a team that lacks a reliable lefthander.

Left-handed Setup -

It remains to be seen just how much the Twins will trust JC Romero in the late innings. He had yet another inconsistent year. He remains an enigma that the Twins have now invested another 2 years in. In the meantime we are all left wondering what it would be like if he was ever able to put it all together.

Reliever -

The key for Grant Balfour is staying healthy. It took half the season for Balfour to show what he can do. He was still too inconsistent but his arm is lightning in a bottle as he demonstrated in game four of the ALDS. There is a slim chance he could start but because of his history of arm troubles the Twins seem more likely to keep him in the bullpen.

Long-reliever -

See Durbin, Mays or Mulholland. The other possible candidates include Boof Bonser, Matt Guerrier, Rule 5 pick Ryan Rowland-Smith and Pat Strange.

As you can see the Twins have the makings of a very strong power bullpen and
rotation. Barring injuries, there is really only 1 spot at the end of the
bullpen up for grabs in spring training. The difference between the Twins this
off-season and last year is the amount of depth they now have. There are fewer
question marks but there will be plenty of competition and players available to
slide into spots should a pitcher get hurt. Hopefully, we will be able to take
a closer look at some of the fringe pitchers hoping to make the team later this
week. Only 26 days left until pitchers and catchers report...