Last Tuesday I spent some time speculating on how I thought the Twins 2011 opening day bullpen would shape up. Having lost much of the 2010 relief corps to free agency, the state of that bullpen is certainly one of the biggest issues facing the 2011 Twins as they attempt to defend their AL Central title. In that post I speculated that former setup man Pat Neshek would once again be a part of the Twins plans, at least to open the season.
Turns out I'm going to have to rethink that.
The Twins, obviously not sold on his status post-surgery even now, two years later, decided to place Neshek on waivers where he was scooped up by the Padres. It's hard to fault the Twins for the move - Neshek hasn't regained much of the velocity he once had. Where he used to operate in the 91-92 mph range, he is now closer to 85-86 and his slider, once a very dangerous pitch, isn't what it once was. Still he wasn't out of options and the Twins could've simply sent him to AAA in the hopes that he would improve. They didn't.
Neshek was a fan favorite and a personal favorite of most Twins bloggers. An affable and personable player who blogged about his job as a professional baseball player and his avid collecting hobby. He actually broke the news about his departure on his Twitter account - something the Twins had admonished him for doing in the past. He'll certainly be missed by many, including myself.
Beyond any personal connection, the loss of Neshek now opens the door for someone else to make their way onto the Twins 40-man roster. In my piece about the Twins bullpen, I cited the fact that certain players who might currently be better MLB options currently aren't on the 40-man roster, and therefor were unlikely to make the squad. Neshek's departure could change that equation, though for now, GM Bill Smih has said the team will leave the spot unfilled.
The most likely candidates to fill Neshek's spot in what had been my assumed bullpen would seem to be Jeff Manship and Jim Hoey. Two other candidates for the open 40-man spot would likely be either Kyle Waldrop or former first round pick Carlos Gutierrez, a pair of ground ball specialists that have had strong springs and solid MiLB careers.
Corey Ettinger is a Senior Writer for Baseball Digest as well as a proud contributor to both 612Sports.net, 312Sports.com, and 313sports.com. He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Coreyettinger for the latest updates, random thoughts and general tomfoolery.