Joe Nathan is likely headed for season-ending Tommy John surgery and suddenly the Twins are faced with replacing a closer who’s converted 91 percent of his save chances with a 1.87 ERA during six seasons in Minnesota.
Truly replacing Nathan will be impossible, because few closers in baseball history have had a six-year stretch that dominant, but bullpen depth was a strength for the Twins before he went down and they now have a handful of capable in-house options to choose from in the ninth inning …
- Jose Mijares was often billed as a “future closer” in the minors and had a 2.34 ERA in 62 innings as a rookie, but Ron Gardenhire may be hesitant to trust a second-year southpaw who allowed right-handers to bat .283 with a .791 OPS against him.
- Matt Guerrier has been one of the league’s best setup man in six years with the Twins, posting a 3.41 ERA in 401 innings, but his raw stuff isn’t overpowering and Gardenhire may not like the idea of yanking him from primary (and often multi-inning) setup duties for a role he’s never filled before.
- Jon Rauch looks like a closer at 6-foot-11 with neck tattoos and has the most closing experience in the group, but even that basically amounts to 17 saves with the Nationals in 2008 and his raw stuff is much closer to Guerrier than Nathan.
- Jesse Crain was once thought of as a future closer and has the mid-90s fastball for the job, but struggled his way to a mid-season demotion to Triple-A last year and has never been particularly consistent or reliable even in a setup role.
- Pat Neshek was dominant as a setup man with a 2.91 ERA and 142 strikeouts in 121 innings, but is coming back from Tommy John surgery of his own and just saw his first post-surgery game action last week. As a side-armer his relative susceptibility versus lefties is also a potential issue.
- Francisco Liriano was moved to the bullpen last year after struggling as a starter, but if he looks good enough to be a closer option the Twins will want him back in the rotation and if he doesn’t impress enough to win a rotation spot they won’t trust him in the ninth inning.
Handicapping the situation is tough, because Gardenhire hasn’t given any hints and the most experienced, trustworthy options also have the least impressive raw stuff. I’d likely go with a closer-by-committee approach that used Mijares whenever lefties are due up, but Gardenhire seems likely to prefer one man for the job and it wouldn’t be surprising if Rauch’s previous closing experience, however brief, gives him the edge initially.
On Friday, Athletics teammates Billy Butler and Danny Valencia were involved in a clubhouse altercation that started when Butler told an equipment representative that Valencia was wearing off-brand spikes during games. Valencia didn’t like Butler’s interference, potentially costing him an endorsement deal, so he punched Butler in the temple, causing a concussion.
Neither player had said much to the media about the incident, but Butler finally addressed the issue on Wednesday. MLB.com’s Mark Chiarelli reported Butler’s comments:
“This was something that could’ve been prevented on both sides,” Butler said. “We had equal faults in this. I definitely said some things that you shouldn’t have. I definitely stepped in an area where it wasn’t my business.”
“By no means do I think his intentions were to give me a concussion,” Butler said. “This is me addressing my faults and what I took away from the team.”
“To say that we’re enemies is not right,” Butler said. “To blame this all on one side is not right either.”
Butler also apologized to his teammates. “I would like to apologize for putting [my teammates] through this because they didn’t deserve this. This was an issue between me and Danny. To be fair for them, they didn’t deserve this. The coaching staff didn’t deserve this. The organization didn’t deserve this,” he said.
Butler is making progress in his recovery from his concussion. He’ll travel with the team to St. Louis to open up a three-game series against the Cardinals starting on Friday. If he passes his concussion protocol test, the Athletics will put him back on the active roster from the seven-day concussion disabled list.
WEEI’s Rob Bradford reports that Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval has lost 22 pounds during his rehabilitation after undergoing shoulder surgery in early May. Weight has been the top subject of conversation regarding Sandoval ever since he showed up to spring training and an unflattering photograph was published by the Boston Globe.
Sandoval had a miserable spring training, batting .204 in 49 at-bats and lost out on the starting third base job to Travis Shaw. He went hitless in seven regular season plate appearances before landing on the disabled list with a sprained left shoulder, which ultimately required reconstructive surgery.
Sandoval is still under contract through at least 2019, earning $17 million next season, and $18 million in ’18 and ’19. His controlling club has a $17 million option with a $5 million buyout for 2020 as well. It’s hard to see Sandoval fitting into his current club’s future plans, but it will be tough for the Red Sox to get rid of him without eating a significant portion of his remaining contract.