Twins finalize opening day roster
By Brian Murphy
St. Paul Pioneer Press
FORT MYERS, Fla. — A flurry of waiver transactions broke the Twins’ roster logjam Thursday when the club banished two regressing regulars and extended a lifeline to a veteran whose versatility and leadership whitewashed a wretched spring at the plate.
Minnesota’s 25-man roster is set for Opening Day Monday against the White Sox in Chicago, but it is etched in pencil. Flexibility was built in to hedge against an injury during the final three spring games or late acquisition as teams continue pruning rosters before Sunday’s deadline.
There is no shortage of intrigue.
Jason Bartlett, a clubhouse leader yoked with a 3-for-35 Grapefruit League hitting performance, made the team as a utility infielder. He also is the de-facto back-up center fielder — despite never playing the position as a professional — after Houston claimed Alex Presley off waivers by Houston.
Chris Parmelee, the onetime heir apparent to slugger Justin Morneau, is out.
Meanwhile, pitcher Scott Diamond, the former 12-game winner who lost out to Kyle Gibson for the Twins’ fifth and final spot in the rotation, is gone though perhaps not for good.
Diamond has until Saturday to accept a demotion to Minnesota’s Triple-A team in Rochester or become a free agent. Finding a starting job could be challenging after 29 major league teams already passed over the left-hander on the waiver wire.
“If we can try to find a spot, I think it’s going to be incredibly rare, but who knows what’s going to happen,” Diamond said. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet. (Minnesota) is the organization that gave me the most opportunity. This is where I consider home. This isn’t the end of the fight.”
Diamond was in the Twins clubhouse packing his bags for an uncertain destination Thursday afternoon when he was called into a meeting with Antony in Gardenhire’s office.
Like right-hander Vance Worley, who cleared waivers last week and was sold Tuesday to the Pirates, Diamond was out of options and had to clear waivers in order to be demoted.
The Twins rotation will feature five right-handers: Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and Gibson.
“Gibson definitely deserves that fifth spot,” said Diamond. “I thought what I had going for me was being out of options and being a lefty to break up that right-handed rotation. But the numbers he put up in spring were too hard to ignore. I wish him all the best. I thought I put up a decent fight at the end but obviously it wasn’t enough.”
Bartlett, 34, was out of baseball last year and limited to just 29 games in 2012 because of injury. Minnesota’s shortstop from 2004-07 was a spring training invitee. It took him several weeks just to get his first hit.
“I know a lot of people are saying, ‘Why? He has three hits or whatever. I totally understand that part,” ‘ Bartlett said. “But I know I can help this team whether it’s on or off the field or in here. I don’t think it was so much the numbers as trying to get this team back on the right track.”
Manager Ron Gardenhire chalked up Bartlett’s struggles to rust. He countered that Bartlett’s resume, including 24 postseason games and a 2008 World Series appearance with Tampa Bay, provides credibility in a clubhouse that has endured 90-plus losses the past three seasons.
Moreover Bartlett’s ability to play both middle infield positions and pinch-run gives Gardenhire options.
“He knows how to play. He’s a winner,” Gardenhire said. “He can do a lot of things for us and is very good in the clubhouse.”
And second-year regular Aaron Hicks essentially has center field all to himself.
“I don’t need a back-up centerfielder right now,” Gardenhire insisted. “Hicks is going to play pretty much everyday. I don’t plan for guys to get hurt. If they do we go get somebody downstream.”
Parmelee’s downfall was striking. Like Diamond he was out of options and the Twins had to expose Parmelee to waivers. There were no takers.
The 26-year-old opened 2013 as the everyday right fielder but gradually lost playing time to rookie Oswaldo Arcia. Parmelee, drafted 20th overall in 2006, was shipped to Triple-A Rochester in mid-July and recalled in September.
He hit just .195 in 41 at-bats this spring, and his ability to play first base now means less with the move of Joe Mauer from catcher to first.
Assistant general manager Rob Antony was hopeful Parmelee had seized his latest opportunity early in spring when he took an aggressive approach in at bats and attacked first-pitch baseballs. But Parmelee became more tentative and watched his average crash.
Antony was unsparing in his critique.
“He needs to regroup. He hasn’t been getting the job done. He’s had opportunities,” Antony said. “He needs to be a profile guy who can play first base, who can play the corner outfield positions, drive in runs. To me he’s become way too passive at the plate. Take control of your own at bats. If you’re going to go down, go down swinging.”
Presley, 28, hit .189 in 37 at-bats this spring with a .268 on-base percentage. A speedster with significant time in the majors, Presley was caught stealing in three of four spring attempts.
Acquired from the Pirates last Aug. 31 in the Morneau deal, Presley lost a spring battle to Hicks for the starting job in center field. Presley, however, found a suitor on the in the Astros.
Unlike Bartlett, Chris Colabello hit his way onto the Twins, posting a .351/.541/.478 average/slugging/on-base percentage entering Thursday night’s game against the Red Sox.
“He’s just been killing the ball all spring,” Gardenhire said. “You come in and make the team. He did that.”
The reigning International League most valuable player gives Gardenhire a much-needed right-handed bat off the bench and to back up Joe Mauer at first base.
“He’s doing all the things we want Parmelee to do,” Antony said.
The moves pared the Twins’ active roster to 26 players, including third-string catcher Dan Rohlfing, who remains in big-league camp basically to catch bullpens. He already has been told he will be out-righted to the minors after Saturday’s spring finale against Boston.
Twelve pitchers include former starter Samuel Deduno, who won the long-relief role in the bullpen.
Split contracts that pay them 60 percent of their 2012 gross salary allow Diamond to earn $280,250 in the minors and Parmelee $242,200. Diamond might be able to earn more trying to pitch his way back up to the Twins than he can command in free agency.
Diamond made six spring outings for the Twins; in 17 innings, he posted a 5.29 earned run average with 20 hits and 10 walks allowed. He struck out 13 and allowed two home runs.
Acquired from the Atlanta Braves in the Rule 5 draft after the 2010 season, Diamond struggled as a rookie in 2011 but rebounded to go 12-9 with a 3.54 earned run average in 27 starts in 2012.
Last season, following a December procedure to remove bone chips from his throwing elbow, Diamond struggled with location in general and curveball command in particular. The cerebral finesse pitcher plummeted to a 6-13 record and 5.43 ERA in 24 big-league starts.
Along the way he was demoted on Aug. 1 to Triple-A Rochester, where he spent the remainder of the month before returning to make four September starts for the Twins.
“I think it is a numbers crunch,” Diamond insisted. “I don’t feel like I’m too far off pitching. I feel like I’ve had success at this level. I’ve made that jump from Triple-A to the big leagues, maybe three times now. I think it’s just making some small adjustments and continuing to have that strong, competitive mentality.”
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