Minnesota has had to replace Joe Mauer for extended stretches before, but unfortunately by trading both Wilson Ramos and Jose Morales the Twins are exceptionally short on catching depth this time around.
Drew Butera will take over as the primary catcher and the Twins have called up minor-league veteran Steve Holm from Rochester to serve as his backup.
Butera is very strong defensively and Holm had a couple brief stints in the majors with the Giants in addition to 11 seasons in the minors, but there isn’t a worse catching duo in the big leagues and asking them to replace the best catcher in baseball represents just about the largest possible dropoff.
Butera has hit .194/.230/.284 in the majors after batting .214/.296/.317 in the minors, making him perhaps MLB’s worst hitter, and Holm has hit just .249/.330/.380 in 170 games at Triple-A. Even if they collectively perform relatively well the Butera-Holm combo is likely at least 60 runs worse offensively per season than Mauer.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.