March 16, 2004

14 Cuts

Good practice, kids. Now it's time for the easiest part of any coach's job. The cuts. Although I wasn't able to cut everyone I wanted, I have cut a lot of you.

Wendell is cut. Rudy is cut. Janey, you're gone. Steven, I like your hussle...that's why it was so hard to cut you.

Congratulations, the rest of you made the team! Except you, you and you.

--- Homer Simpson, "Bart Star"

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Twins sent the following poor souls to the minors yesterday:

Adam Johnson

Boof Bonser
Mike Nakamura
Rob Bowen
Jason Bartlett
Terry Tiffee
Colby Miller
Brian Wolfe
B.J. Garbe
Jason Kubel
Jeromy Palki
Brandon Marsters
Jake Mauer
Luis Rodriguez

No huge surprises, obviously. The big decisions involving guys like Lew Ford, Michael Cuddyer, Michael Ryan and Jose Offerman have yet to be made.

Among the cuts...

Jason Bartlett is a guy I like quite a bit, if only because he represents essentially the only quality middle infielder in the system and is thus my only shot at not having to watch Luis Rivas play every day for the next decade.

Adam Johnson and B.J. Garbe are a couple of former first round picks who look, as of right now, like major busts. They're still young enough to turn things around, of course. I very much doubt Garbe ever will, but I'm holding out hope that Johnson can be valuable once he moves full-time to the bullpen.

The guy on the above list that I wish hadn't been cut is Mike Nakamura. The Twins' bullpen isn't the strongest in the world right now and I really think Nakamura could have done a very good job as a middle reliever. He had a 2.99 ERA in 78.1 innings at Triple-A last year and had a beautiful 95/28 strikeout/walk ratio.

For Nakamura's minor league career, he has a 2.99 ERA in 421.2 innings, with 439 strikeouts and 129 walks. I would be shocked if he couldn't put up a 3.50-4.00 ERA in 60-80 innings if given the chance. But now he'll head back to Triple-A for the third straight year and hope for an injury or something, I guess.

I also wish they'd have given more of a shot to Rob Bowen. With Joe Mauer on the team, Bowen doesn't figure very heavily into their long-term plans, despite being a 23 catcher, but I think he'd make a great backup to Mauer during the rest of the decade.

The Twins seem committed to going with veteran no-bat Henry Blanco as their backup, which isn't the worst idea in the world. Who the backup catcher is on a team with a starter who is likely to play just about every day isn't a big deal and having a good defensive veteran around Mauer can only help. That said, Blanco can't hit worth a lick (.219/.295/.353 in 1,404 career PA) and Bowen is young and hit .285/.350/.456 betwen Double-A and Triple-A last year.

In fact, now that I'm talking about Minnesota's roster, I might as well tell you which 25 guys I would keep to start the season. I'll say this now, before the Twins officially screw Lew Ford out of a job.

 C   Joe Mauer

1B Doug Mientkiewicz
2B Luis Rivas
SS Cristian Guzman
3B Corey Koskie
LF Shannon Stewart
CF Torii Hunter
RF Jacque Jones
DH Matthew LeCroy

No big surprises there. This is assuming I took over the team today, of course. If I had taken over a couple months ago, Rivas would clearly be somewhere else (they already signed him for way too much, so I can't get rid of him now) and Jacque Jones would probably be gone too.

 C   Rob Bowen

IF Nick Punto
IF Michael Cuddyer
OF Lew Ford
OF Michael Ryan

You'll notice a severe lack of Jose Offerman here. The Twins need an old, defensively-challenged pinch-hitter who can't actually hit like they need another Rivas. Lew Ford is a perfect 4th-outfielder, Nick Punto is a good utility guy, Michael Cuddyer can play all the corner spots and Michael Ryan gives Gardenhire a lefty off the bench.

That's actually a damn good bench and they're very young too. At least two of those guys deserve to be starting somewhere.

SP   Johan Santana

SP Brad Radke
SP Kyle Lohse
SP Carlos Silva
SP Grant Balfour

The big change here is that I would go with Grant Balfour instead of Rick Helling. Helling has proven he is mediocre (5.17 ERA last year, 4.77 ERA career), whereas Balfour has been great in the minors and may actually be good if you give him a chance.

RP   Joe Nathan

RP Jesse Crain
RP J.C. Romero
RP Juan Rincon
RP Mike Nakamura
RP Sean Douglass

So here's the deal. If you keep Nakamura on the team, then there is a choice to make. You can either keep Jesse Crain and risk losing a fairly good pitcher on waivers, or you can keep everyone and send Crain to Triple-A to start the season.

I would keep Crain around. If he pitches like he showed he's capable of in the minors, he'll be a great setup-man for Joe Nathan and the Twins need that more than anything right now. By keeping Crain (and Nakamura), that leaves only one spot open for Brad Thomas or Sean Douglass. They are both relatively young (Douglass is 25, Thomas is 26) and out of options, which means if you don't keep them, you risk losing them.

If I had to pick, I'd go with Douglass. I'd keep him around for mop-up/spot-start/long-relief duties, which is always needed. It's really a coin-flip choice over Thomas, but Douglass is younger and has had more success in recent years. I wouldn't argue with either one for the last spot.

Of course, the Twins will keep Helling and Offerman and Blanco, so none of this is based in reality. That said, my general rule is that I prefer unproven young guys over crappy old guys any day of the week, but maybe that's why I'm writing about what I would do if I were running things.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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