The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

March 5, 2012

Thoma: Twins get no relief from bullpen critics

— When Joel Zumaya’s elbow blew up a few days into spring training, Twins general manager Terry Ryan came under almost immediate criticism for his low-profile approach to fixing the bullpen failure of 2011.

Among the various arguments from various complainants:

  • The payroll reduction that constrained Ryan’s spending was unwise and unjust;
  • Ryan cut the arbitration-eligible Jose Mijares loose rather than pay him an estimated $750,000; Mijares then signed with Kansas City for more than $900,000;
  • In a free-agency season that featured a large number of veteran relievers, Ryan jumped early to retain Matt Capps without pursuing other closer options in the same price range;
  • Ryan’s one major-league bullpen signing was of the injury-prone Zumaya, while he ignored a number of veteran free agents who wound up with contracts little higher than Mijares’.

That there is truth to all four statements does not mean Ryan's moves (or non-moves) were mistakes.

Payroll. The critics here are rapping ownership more than Ryan, but Ryan probably agrees with the Pohlads.

The previous general manager broke the payroll budget in 2011 to no good purpose. The 2012 Twins will not only have the second highest payroll in team history, they will have the most expensive draft class in team history. It’s not a cheap operation.

 I’d rather see Ryan invest in years of future talent than spend on current mediocrities.

Mijares. The portly one’s numbers worsened each season, and in 2011 he went from being the Twins’ primary bullpen lefty to third option (behind Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing). Why pay Mijares more than Phil Dumatrait for the same level of work?

Closer. There were plenty of “proven closers” in the market, not all of whom landed ninth-inning gigs. Capps signed a one-year deal for $4 million with a team option for 2013 for $6 million. That’s considerably cheaper than the price for the upper-level guys (such as Jonathan Papelbon or Ryan Madson), and a bit lower than other second-tier closers, such as Frank Francisco or Francisco Cordero.

The Twins believe, and I concur, that Capps is a good bounce-back bet.

Middle relief. While Ryan signed just one free agent reliever to a major league deal (that being Zumaya), he was hardly inactive.

The Twins still have 32 pitchers in camp. That none of them are Dan Wheeler or Chad Qualls doesn’t bother me.

The Twins need power arms. Established, reliable bullpen power arms are pricey. It’s better to find them than to buy them. The Twins approach of using their farm system and searching the scrap heap to bolster the bullpen may seem like trusting to luck, but history suggests that’s actually the safer bet.

Edward Thoma is a Free Press staff writer. He is at 344-6377 or at ethoma@mankatofreepress.com. He also has a baseball blog at www.mankatofreepress.com.

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