March 29, 2010

Casilla Beats Tolbert, Jones For Final Bench Spot

Nothing is official yet, but the Twins basically finalized the position player portion of their roster over the weekend by optioning Matt Tolbert to Triple-A and announcing that Jacque Jones will also begin the year in Rochester. Tolbert and Jones were both competing with Alexi Casilla for the final bench spot, but Casilla had a big advantage in that he's out of minor-league options and would have to pass through waivers unclaimed before going to the minors.

I've all but given up on Casilla developing into an impact player. He'll turn 26 years old in June, doesn't have a great glove, and has hit just .244/.301/.314 in 903 plate appearances in the majors along with .278/.352/.350 in 703 plate appearances at Triple-A. Yes, he had a very nice half-season for the Twins in 2008, but he's too old to be a prospect, doesn't bring a ton to the table defensively, and has now been an awful hitter for the past 1,600 plate appearances.

With that said, choosing to keep Casilla around as a utility man rather than risk losing him for nothing on waivers makes sense when the alternative is a similarly flawed non-prospect with a minor-league option remaining in Tolbert. Barring injury the last man on the bench will rarely see the field anyway, so this way the Twins keep both guys in the organization while delaying an inevitable decision on Casilla's future.

Jones actually out-performed Casilla and Tolbert during spring training, but decisions shouldn't be based on a dozen exhibition games against inconsistent levels of competition and he hasn't been a productive big-league hitter since 2007. Beyond that he isn't on the 40-man roster, so the Twins would've had to dump someone like Casilla to create a spot for him. Instead they'll stash Jones at Triple-A and see if he plays well enough to be a potential in-season call-up.

Barring a last-minute change, here are the Opening Day position players:

   STARTERS                 BENCH
C  Joe Mauer             C  Drew Butera
1B Justin Morneau        IF Brendan Harris
2B Orlando Hudson        IF Alexi Casilla
SS J.J. Hardy            DH Jim Thome
3B Nick Punto
LF Delmon Young             DISABLED LIST
CF Denard Span           C  Jose Morales
RF Michael Cuddyer
DH Jason Kubel

The combination of a 12-man pitching staff and Jim Thome's inability to serve as more than an emergency first baseman defensively already limited the Twins to essentially a 3.5-man bench. Compounding that issue even further is Jose Morales starting the season on the disabled list and the final spot going to Casilla rather than an outfielder. However, while that's certainly far from an ideal setup it shouldn't hurt the Twins much in the short term.

Drew Butera will have an argument for being the majors' worst hitter, but Morales is aiming to return by the end of April and in the meantime he hopefully won't be called on for more than 1-2 starts each week. On days when Thome starts at DH the Twins will have an outfielder on the bench and presumably Casilla, Nick Punto, or Michael Cuddyer can handle center field for a few innings if necessary. Plus, beyond Punto the Twins won't do much pinch-hitting anyway.

Sure, a healthy Morales would be preferable to Butera and an experienced outfielder would be more useful than Casilla, but ultimately Thome and Brendan Harris will take care of whatever mixing and matching Ron Gardenhire figures to do with the lineup. It doesn't make sense to rush Wilson Ramos' development just so he can back up Joe Mauer for a couple weeks and it doesn't make sense to ditch Casilla before getting further proof that Jones isn't washed-up.

  • Eric B. B.

    It wouldn’t require the Twins to dump anyone to put Jones on the 40-man–they would simply have to put Joe Nathan on the 60-day DL and give Jones that spot. Doesn’t solve the problem of Casilla being out of options, but Jones not being on the 40-man is a non-issue.

  • http://aarongleeman.com aarongleeman

    It wouldn’t require the Twins to dump anyone to put Jones on the 40-man–they would simply have to put Joe Nathan on the 60-day DL and give Jones that spot. Doesn’t solve the problem of Casilla being out of options, but Jones not being on the 40-man is a non-issue.

    This is technically true, but only very briefly. Neshek is also on the 60-day disabled list, so once he’s activated they’d be forced to cut someone anyway if they kept Jones. Also, by keeping Jones on the 25-man roster there wouldn’t be a spot for Casilla and since Casilla can’t be sent to the minors they’d have to waive him.

    It is definitely an issue. They couldn’t have put Jones on the Opening Day roster and kept Casilla.

  • http://thatstwinsbaseball.com bennyc50

    I would almost call our bench a 2.5 man bench given Butera is our only catcher in case of a Mauer emergency. Gardy would be hesitant to use him as a pinch hitter since he sucks (ok maybe not knowing Gardy) and wouldn’t be adding value even if PH for Punto. This almost seems like a place for Butera to sit and not take playing time away from talent in the minors.

  • thisisbeth

    I thought all players came off the DL in the off-season… At any rate, I counted 40 men on the 40-man roster, unless my counting skills are lacking.

  • Adam S.

    Ummm why would we start Delmon over Thome? Kubel can play left as good if not better than Delmon (personally I think Kubel is slightly better). This would also give us an outfielder on the bench. Delmon should only start against lefties. Retarded to start him.

  • Jeff Lewis

    Preaching to the choir, Adam. A Thome/Delmon platoon would be plenty potent. I would be surprised if Delmon doesn’t start 100+ games though.

  • Eric B. B.

    If Neshek is indeed still on the 60-day DL (according to this: http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/team/roster_40man.jsp?c_id=min it appears that he isn’t) then I stand corrected.

    However, I never meant to imply that putting Jones on the 40-man roster solved the problem; all I meant to say was that the 40-man roster spot isn’t the problem–Casilla being out of options is.

  • Casey

    Aaron, this is slightly unrelated as this blog happened to be about position players, but I have heard literally nothing about what the pen is going to look like with Nathan gone.

    I mean, are they really going to give a spot to Condrey, when Slama has done nothing but dominate in the minors, and has k’d over 2/IP without giving up a hit this ST?

  • Swanee

    Is Ramos great trade bait if he is outstanding in Rochester? Doesn’t the biggest non-Yankmee contract ever turn Wilson Ramos into trade bait?

  • Dave T

    I thought the competition between Casilla and Tolbert turned into a race for the bottom. What the heck happened to Tolbert? All he had to do was field his position and hit above the Mendoza line, and he would have had a good chance to come north with the Twins. The last two preseasons he’s hit .290. This year he couldn’t field OR hit.

  • Evan

    Slightly off topic, but can we bury the silly ‘Mauer will cost 25% of the Twins payroll for eight years’ story I have seen dozens of journalists pen?

    Yes, in the first year of the contract 2011, Mauer’s $23 million will likely be about a quarter of the Twins payroll if you assume a baseline of $92 million for next year. But after that, Mauer’s contract stays fixed at $23 million, and in all likelihood, the Twins payroll will increase at least modestly every year, let’s assume 5%. That would likely even be a very conservative estimate, as inflation and ticket prices (and therefore salaries) are likely to rise faster in the future.

    But even assuming just 5% annual increases in payroll, Mauer’s contract drops from 25% of salary in 2011, down to 18% by 2018. Sure, even 18% is still a big part and a risk, but it is signficantly less than what journalists are writing.

  • Joe C.

    Lets turn Ramos into our 3rd baseman.

  • D-Luxxx

    @Swanee – Ramos has too much upside to trade at this point. Morales is a good place holder for the next few seasons as Ramos gets more experience and at bats, but I see Ramos being the backup to Mauer in the next two years or so, and eventually when/if Joe moves to another position, he’ll take over as the starting catcher. There really isn’t any reason to trade Ramos at this point.

    @Joe C. – No, naughty.

  • Jeff H

    I’m not opposed to the Mauer deal, and not even particularly appalled at how much he got, but I do take issue with the “fixed salary” argument for $23 million a year. Why do people always assume that salaries are going to always increase? If you look at the numbers over the past decade, there’s hardly any significant increase. If anything, baseball is starting to see the same thing that the NHL saw post-salary cap–which is that the top guys can earn slightly more, but the middle class is rapidly declining.

    I seriously doubt that $23 million will be viewed as a “bargain” 6 years from now, given the economics of baseball and society at large. That’s not saying anything negative about the deal, but I feel like people are under the impression that $20 million+ deals for star players will be “routine” in a few years, and that I highly doubt that will be the case.

  • Jeff H

    Also, the Twins overall salary has climbed up to the $100 million mark, but all it would is one or two bad years after we break in this new park, and you shouldn’t have any doubt that the Pohlads would start hacking off large amounts of salary quickly. Just ask the 2009 Tigers, who went from 2nd-tier superpower to quasi-rebuild in literally the span of a few months.

  • Jeremy

    Eric B. B.,

    I agree with you. Neshek is definitely on the 40-man. All players have to be removed from the 60-day DL in November before rosters are set for the Rule V draft.

    About Casilla, I think the Twins should see if he’d pass through waivers. Do teams want limited middle infielders, supposedly good arm, below-average glove and what BA calls the only 20 bat in the major leagues on the 20-80 scale? Maybe someone would claim him, who cares? He serves absolutely no purpose. Plus, take him away and replace him with somebody, ANYBODY that could serve as a back-up center fielder. If he’s not claimed, he can go play in Rochester, or just be cut. He doesn’t deserve a roster spot, that is for sure.

  • Peter

    Did anyone mention Kubel being the leftfielder and Dinosaur Young and Jim Thome share DH duties?

  • TMW

    I’m definitely on board if the organization decides maybe Ramos should start taking infield reps at 3B this year.

  • jimbo92107

    This may be the opening day lineup, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be the lineup after the All Star break. I like Nick Punto, but his dive-happy style of play will never allow him to be a long-term starter. After a few weeks he gets so beat up that he can hardly swing a bat, and now that he’s gone through several years of that rough style, he’s liable to break down even faster.

    As for Delmon, I can’t think of a better time for him to show the world some of what he was supposed to become as the first player taken in the draft. If he fizzles or gets hurt, it won’t take Gardy long to call up Jacques Jones, especially if Jones keeps pounding out a high average in AAA. Same goes for Punto at third, with Valencia right on the edge of ready in Rochester.

    The Twins have several guys ready to blow the lid off the minor league system. How long will they have to wait for a real shot? You could make a pretty good major league team out of the guys in AA and AAA right now.