The Minnesota Twins announced multiple moves on Thursday, effectively trimming the final ridges off the 25-man roster. Scott Diamond and Chris Parmelee both cleared waivers, Alex Presley was claimed off waivers by the Houston Astros, and Jason Bartlett was told he'd be making the trip north from Fort Myers to Chicago for the season opener.
That means the Twins' four bench players will be Bartlett, Eduardo Escobar, Chris Colabello and Josmil Pinto.
The Twins exposed two outfielders in their 20's to waivers - Parmelee (26) and Presley (28) - in order to clear a roster spot for 34-year-old Bartlett, who hasn't played in a major league game since May 14, 2012. Due in part to knee problems, Bartlett hit just .133/.240/.193 in 29 games. In the two seasons before that, Bartlett hit .250/.316/.327 - the equivalent to swinging a wet, rolled-up newspaper. Sure, he has always been reliable defensively (at least, at last check in 2012), but so is Escobar.
Colabello should be able to provide pop, perhaps as a platoon partner with Jason Kubel, who doesn't hit lefties particularly well.
Now, let's be real here. The 24th and 25th men on the roster aren't going to be the difference between 70 and 90 wins for the Twins in 2014. Even so, it's still fair to question what the Twins are doing with their roster construction, particularly in one key spot.
The Twins' main issue appears to be offense. We know what Joe Mauer's bat can provide. If Josh Willingham is healthy - and that's always a big if - he'll hit some home runs. We're pretty sure Brian Dozier and Oswaldo Arcia will hit. Beyond that, who else stands out?
Trevor Plouffe's bat has been mostly quiet since the 2012 All-Star break. Aaron Hicks remains a question mark, particularly from the left side of the plate. Kurt Suzuki is hitting .237/.294/.357 since 2009. Pedro Florimon is a career .219/.278/.323 hitter in the majors, and his .249/.321/.354 career minor league batting line doesn't offer much hope for improvement.
Sure, Kubel hit 30 home runs in Arizona in 2012. But he also hit .216/.293/.317 with only five home runs last year.
Knowing all of this, it's not a stretch to suggest Pinto is one of the Twins' three or four best hitters. Even prior to his hot big league debut in September (.342/.398/.566, which was inflated due to a high batting average on balls in play, but still pretty damn good), Pinto mashed at Double- and Triple-A. And at age 25, he's no longer a true prospect. It's time to go.
Because of how good Suzuki is at working with pitchers, and considering how badly the Twins need good starting pitching, I'm OK with him starting behind the plate (just don't pencil him in the 2-hole).
But here's the problem - Ron Gardenhire seemingly has an inherent fear of his starting catcher getting hurt during a game, which is why he always balks at using his second catcher as the designated hitter. If the starting catcher gets injured, the other catcher must then move from DH to behind the plate, and that means pitchers will be forced to hit.
Of course, the chances of that happening are, what, 1-in-200? Not to mention, it's just a one-game problem, and depending on when the hypothetical injury happens (say, late in a game), maybe only a one- or two-inning problem.
If Pinto is on the 25-man roster, he should hit in the middle of this mediocre lineup. Every day. As of right now, it sounds as if he will catch a couple days a week and maybe enter as a pinch hitter in the other games.
If the injured-catcher phobia is that strong, why not keep Chris Herrmann on the bench in a catcher/outfield utility role instead of Bartlett, Colabello or Kubel? If the answer to that question is, "Herrmann isn't a great hitter," well... he'd fit right in.
At least his presence would keep Pinto's bat in the lineup.