August 29, 2006

Building the Playoff Roster

With big-league rosters expanding Friday, it's time to think about who the Twins want available for the playoffs. Having Shannon Stewart and Francisco Liriano on the disabled list gives the Twins some flexibility beyond the normal Thursday deadline for setting a playoff roster, as Stewart can be replaced by any position player and Liriano can be replaced by any pitcher (or use the spot himself, hopefully).

When it comes to postseason roster construction, the main difference is that multiple off days during each series means there's less need for depth than during the regular season. For example, there's no real need for a mop-up man or fifth starter during the playoffs, and even fourth starters can be used somewhat sparingly.

In fact, teams typically need only eight or nine pitchers in October, compared to the 11- and 12-man pitching staffs that are now common during the season. That setup plays to the Twins' strengths, or at least downplays their weaknesses, because the back end of the starting rotation is clearly the team's biggest question mark at this point and the entire staff is very top heavy.

On the other hand, postseason bench usage becomes more about in-game strategy than resting players or divvying up playing time, which puts the Twins at a slight disadvantage. With no dangerous pinch-hitters to speak of, the Twins' bench is more suited for day-to-day management than actual in-game tactics, and unfortunately there aren't any great bench bats available at Triple-A.

With all that in mind and assuming for a moment that Liriano is healthy enough to play a major role, here's the playoff roster I'd build for the Twins:


SP Johan Santana CL Joe Nathan
SP Francisco Liriano SU Juan Rincon
SP Brad Radke LH Dennys Reyes
SP Carlos Silva RH Pat Neshek
RH Jesse Crain
RH Matt Guerrier

I'm typically in favor of a nine-man pitching staff for the playoffs, but the Twins don't have the bench bats to make carrying a couple extra position players particularly worthwhile. It's unlikely that Matt Guerrier or Jesse Crain would get much in the way of meaningful postseason work, but it's not like Terry Tiffee or Josh Rabe would either.

The biggest decision will be who gets the nod as the fourth starter. I went with Carlos Silva, although after watching him throw batting practice to the White Sox over the weekend, I'm not sure why. Taking Silva over Boof Bonser, Matt Garza, and Scott Baker shouldn't be a no-brainer, but I doubt the Twins will give it much thought. Using Guerrier for 3-4 innings and then turning things over to the bullpen might actually be the best option.

Of course, if Liriano isn't available as a starter, then Silva becomes the third starter and the choice is suddenly between Bonser, Garza, and Baker. Bonser would likely get the call right now, but I suspect Garza probably has a chance to change the team's mind over the next couple weeks. The worst-case scenario has both Liriano and Brad Radke unavailable, but I'd rather not talk about that.


C Joe Mauer C Mike Redmond
1B Justin Morneau C Chris Heintz
2B Luis Castillo IF Luis Rodriguez
SS Jason Bartlett OF Rondell White
3B Nick Punto OF Lew Ford
LF Jason Tyner OF Josh Rabe
CF Torii Hunter
RF Michael Cuddyer
DH Jason Kubel

If the Twins go with 10 pitchers and 15 position players--which might be wishful thinking on my part--the only other possible change to the group listed above that I can see would be taking Tiffee instead of either Rabe or Chris Heintz. A surprising number of Twins fans see something they like in Tiffee, but I'm not one of them. Plus, I fail to see what tactical use he'd have in the playoffs.

There's no one in the lineup Tiffee should be pinch-hitting for, there's no one he should be coming in for as a defensive replacement, and there's no opportunity for him to platoon with someone. Rabe at least could be of some use against lefties, either pinch-hitting or starting in place of Jason Tyner, and Lew Ford could be used as a pinch-runner or defensive replacement.

My decision to include Heintz on the roster is probably surprising, but it's a move the Twins should make. As long as Ron Gardenhire lets his irrational fear of being left without a backup catcher impact the way he manages, it's vital for Terry Ryan to provide him with a third catcher to have as a safety net. Heintz's presence would allow both Joe Mauer and Mike Redmond to be in the lineup against lefties, and it would also free Redmond to pinch-hit when he doesn't start.

Given the sad state of the Twins' designated hitters and bench bats, being able to use Mauer and Redmond as much as possible without fear (irrational or otherwise) of being left short-handed could have a big impact. Plus, Heintz can play third base in an emergency, which is also about all that can be said about Tiffee's defense there.

The Twins will probably take 11 pitchers and Tiffee, leaving themselves with a worthless bench and relievers who will have cobwebs growing on them by Game 4. In other words, the 25-man roster suggested above is more of a plea than a prediction. We'll see.

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