Friday, August 19, 2011

Managing the Disabled List

Last night, the Twins had Joe Mauer playing right field because they were out of position players. This resulted in a bunch of outlandish twitter comments, including some from the usually reasonable SethSpeaks (SethTweets on Twitter). The substance of the commentary was that Twins management was incompetent or that the Twins medical staff was incompetent, or both. What actually happened was a perfect storm. But it raised interesting questions about the management of the disabled list.

The starting point for the disabled list is that once a player is put on it, they have to wait 15 days from their last appearance before they can be activated. So you don't put players on the list if you think they will recover in a short period. In fact, part of the Twins problems last night can be traced to the decision to put Jason Repko on the DL, with a minor injury rather than optioning him to Rochester. Repko is likely able to play, but he can't since he is on the DL.

The Twins have had three players out with what appeared to be temporary injuries. Denard Span with concussion systems, Michael Cuddyer with a stiff neck and  Matt Tolbert with a sprained wrist. In addition, Jason Kubel was gone last night dealing with family issues. That left the Twins with only nine position players. 

On Tuesday, Michael Cuddyer was ready to return to the lineup Wednesday. Then on Wednesday he couldn't play after his neck took a significant turn for the worse overnight. At that point, the Twins called up Luke Hughes for Thursday's game. The plan was to DL either Cuddyer or Span, depending on which seemed to be further away from playing. Unfortunately, Hughes missed his plane. The result was that Joe Mauer was in the outfield and the injured Matt Tolbert was the only player on the bench. Tolbert apparently can play defense, but not swing the bat.  

So what were the Twins alternatives? They could have put Cuddyer, Tolbert and Span on the DL earlier. Or at least, that seems to be the argument SethSpeaks was making. That the "Twins medical staff" was somehow responsible for the players not recovering or for not accurately predicting how soon  they would be ready. I don't think that is real. Cuddyer appeared ready, Span's headaches could disappear in a day and it appears even now they think Tolbert will be ready in days, not the two weeks he would have to stay on the DL.

Which brings us to the larger problem. The Twins currently have only two other position players on the major league roster, Rene Rivera and Joe Benson. Opening a roster spot for any other position player would require releasing one of the pitchers at Rochester. So sitting a bunch of players for a couple weeks with minor injuries because you are uncertain how quickly the will recover could leave the roster in chaos for weeks, rather than just one game.  

Of course some of this is Joe Benson. He hit a couple home runs a couple days agao and now the bloggers all think he is ready to play in the big leagues. The fact that those two home runs are half his hits in the last couple weeks. Benson's average for August is below the Mendoza line, but before those home runs he had two hits in the previous ten games and was hitting under .100. He has also been striking out in one of every three plate appearances. Giving him his first taste of the big leagues at a point where he has been struggling mightily to hit AA pitching is just a bad idea. Even worse, under the circumstances he would not be able to sit on the bench and watch, no matter how over-matched he is. It appears they are already doing that with Rene Tosoni, who clearly had no business being in the lineup against a CC Sabathia. 

I understand that Twitter is really just quick takes on a situation. And the idea of Mauer out in right field is both frustrating and a little embarrassing. But last night was a perfect storm. You can blame Hughes for missing his plane, but the idea that the situation can be used to blame the Twins as an organization is pretty silly. You can't DL players every time they have  a sore wrist, a sore neck or a headache.

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