February 26, 2009

No Bonser, No Cruz

Yesterday, I posted about how Boof Bonser's shoulder problems could result in a "Golden Opportunity" for Philip Humber to lock himself in for a position in the Twins' bullpen. Then later in the morning, the news broke that during arthroscopic shoulder surgery, the physicians discovered a torn labrum as well as a torn rotator cuff, which would most likely end Bonser's season.

For those that aren't aware, a torn labrum is considered by many to be the "death to pitchers." Many baseball fans still believe that Tommy John Surgery is one of the worst injuries a pitcher could endure, and although they're partially right, players that undergo that particular surgery have a very high rate of success after recovery. Surgery to repair a torn labrum on the other hand has only a slight chance of success afterward for the players.

The Twins are no strangers to pitchers with torn labrum's. In fact it is essentially what ended Brad Radke's career. Instead of undergoing surgery and face at least a year of recovery with a slight chance of ever fully recovering, Radke decided to retire at the age of 34. Another instance, one more recent in fact is Jesse Crain. Crain's tear was only partial (like Bonser's), and despite missing nearly all of the 2007 season, Crain returned to action with the Twins in 2008 with the Twins and had nearly an identical season as he had in 2006, which was prior to his injury.

Last season, Crain was 5-4 with a 3.59 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and 2.08 K/BB ratio in 62 2/3 innings. Crain's numbers did not impress many Twins fans last season. In fact, Crain was often criticized for being a liability out of the pen. I personally didn't think he did as bad as many believe he did, and when considering he's putting up these numbers within a year after undergoing labrum surgery, I think that those numbers were actually quite impressive.

Crain's return also surprised many as his velocity didn't take much of a hit at all, which is something very common in any arm surgery, but particularly labrum surgery. If Bonser can try to see any "light" in this situation, he should look to Crain's success prior to surgery as he's one of the few that have any sort of success after surgery.

After the injury was announced, many Twins fans were awaiting news on some kind of progress with reliever Juan Cruz, as one would think that the Twins would be much more insistent on acquiring Cruz. As I mentioned last week, Cruz and the Twins were reportedly working on a sign-and-trade deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Instead late last night, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that the Twins have ended their pursuit of Cruz.

To me, the only explanation was that the Twins viewed Bonser as their best trade-chip to acquire Cruz and probably felt they wouldn't be willing to acquire him without him being involved.

Ron Gardenhire has talked recently about carrying only an 11-man pitching staff when the team heads North. Instead, I would personally rather see the Twins have a 12-man staff in order hopefully prevent having to rely on the same guys too many times like they did last year with Matt Guerrier early on.

The bullpen essentially only has five players considered 'locks' at this point:
  • Joe Nathan
  • Matt Guerrier
  • Jesse Crain
  • Luis Ayala
  • Craig Breslow
After those five both Jose Mijares and Humber are the only players really considered as possibilities, although that's not to say they're the only two in competition.

If I had it my way, both of these pitchers would also be heading North with the Twins come April. Even though Bonser isn't a great pitcher by any stretch of the imagination, I was fealing fairly confident in our bullpen prior to hearing this news. Bonser was the guy who despite pitching his worst season as a Twin last season was hyped-up by the organization as being a guy to show flashes of being a player who could significantly help our bullpen out this season.

Now that Cruz looks to be out of the picture as well, I again fear that our bullpen could be our Achilles Heal again in 2009, as it was in 2008.