c. 1/15/2010 – Mark McLemore (LHP) – signed
2/1/2010 – Steven Tolleson (IF) – Claimed off Waivers by OAK
Things are starting to ‘hot up’ a bit (as the Brits — or at least the Brits who write on soccer blogs I occasionally read) in the Twins world as Spring Training draws ever nearer. But while most fans are focusing on the Jim Thome signing, the looming extension for Joe Mauer, and the speculation that the Twins are still kicking the tires on Orlando Hudson, there was still a bit of transaction action that has less of an implication on the 2010 major league squad.
Most significantly, the Twins needed to make room for Jim Thome on the 40-man roster and decided to do so by trying to pass recently added infielder Steven Tolleson through waivers. Unfortunately, the A’s were all over Tolleson — a middle infielder with a pretty solid bat and the ability to play all over the field but who also has been noted for not necessarily having the greatest defensive skills.
Part of me wishes that the Twins had decided to go in a different direction with this decision rather than trying to pass one of the newly added young players through waivers. Looking ahead at what I expect to happen in Spring Training, it seems to me unlikely that Alexi Casilla is going to win a job. With Justin Morneau, J.J. Hardy, Jim Thome, Brandon Harris, and Nick Punto all virtually guaranteed spots on the major league roster (like it or not, it’s almost certainly the case) that leaves just one more roster spot for an infielder.
That spot could be taken up by a free agent third- or second baseman, but will probably fall to either Casilla or Matt Tolbert. Tolbert is the more versatile player, has had the better attitude, and seems to be in the better graces of manager Ron Gardenhire — all of which leads me to believe it will be Tolbert and not Casilla who wins the job if a choice has to be made between the two.
Normally, this wouldn’t be all that meaningful and wouldn’t be a reason to part ways with Casilla. However, since he is out of options, if Casilla doesn’t win a job he’ll have to pass through waivers at the end of Spring Training anyway if the Twins want to try to keep him. Given what I see as long odds against Casilla winning a spot, I am tempted to say that I would have bit the bullet on Casilla now to free up room for Thome.
Of course, the Twins still have hope that Casilla will be able to once again play like he did in 2008 — and undoubtedly want to see him perform in Spring Training to see if he’s matured and if last season was an aberration. I understand that, even if I don’t think things are likely to turn out as the Twins are hoping for them to.
The other transaction in the last couple of weeks involved the little discussed signing of pitcher Mark McLemore to a minor league deal. McLemore is a southpaw out of the Houston organization who spent 2007 with the Astros as a reliever (and did a reasonably good, though not great job — a 3.86 ERA but higher than desirable 1.60 WHIP coupled with a strong 9.0 K/9 just under a 2-1 K-BB ratio), but missed all of 2008 and spent 2009 as a starter in AAA. Last season’s ERA was worse (4.87) but his WHIP was better (1.42), and his K/9 was down to just over half of what it was as a reliever (4.8). That’s to be expected, both because he was presumably returning from injury and because he had moved into a starting role where he probably had to conserve his stuff a bit more.
The signing probably is one of those run of the mill minor league signings we see every year — a move by the Twins to bring in some experienced pitching to bolster the depth in Rochester. It’s not impossible that we could hear McLemore’s name bandied about as a mid-season callup, but it seems pretty unlikely with the number of names ahead of him in the organization.