It feels like Jeff Manship has been around forever. He's made appearances for the Twins in each of the last three campaigns now, racking up 64 innings reaching back to 2009. So what does the future hold for Manship?
Anthony Swarzak and Brian Duensing both debuted the same season as Manship, but in spite of all three of them being tweeners who have made appearances as starters and relievers, both Swarzak and Duensing have roles for 2012 which are more of less pretty well defined.
Manship, meanwhile, logged just 3.1 innings with the Twins after breaking camp with the team last March. He made just five appearances, allowing three runs off five hits and four walks. A few weeks later he hit the disabled list with a shoulder injury, and would only get in 25 innings of work for the Red Wings. Considering that roughly 61 of his 64 MLB innings were accrued between '09 and '10 and that he broke camp with the Twins in '11, his career appeared to be heading in one direction. Now, after one very frustrating season, it might be heading in another.
At this juncture, part of what plays against Manship are his circumstances, because in spite of his lingering presence he still has one option year remaining. This means the Twins have one more season to return and recall him from Rochester if they so choose. A vast majority of the time players are only allowed three years worth of options, but Manship is allowed a fourth because he meets this set of criteria:
- A player has not spent at least 90 days on an active professional roster in a season. Minor leagues that play below Class A Advanced have seasons that are shorter than 90 days, and as such, any player who spends a full season in a rookie or Class A (short-season) league will receive a fourth option year.
- A player has not spent at least 60 days on an active professional roster AND then at least 30 days on a disabled list in a season. Only after 60 days have been spent on an active professional roster does time spent on the disabled list count towards the 90-day threshold. As with the prior example, this cannot occur with players who spend a full season in a rookie or Class A (short season) league.
When players are out of options, if the organization has any faith whatsoever in that player it more or less forces their hand in putting him on the 25-man roster out of spring training. Why? Because if they don't, they risk losing the player by passing them through waivers in order to send them back to triple-A. At times a team will keep that player even if they know he might not be one of the best 25 men on the roster.
Coming out of the 2010 season it was just as common to question whether the Twins would keep Alexi Casilla for the following year because he was out of options, as it was to question whether they'd keep him due to the departure of every other middle infielder on the roster. Trevor Plouffe, Luke Hughes and the aforementioned Swarzak are all out of options this year. Does this make it any more likely that the Twins will feel obligated to take these players north to Minnesota?
Having become one of Gardy's favorites last season, Swarzak's spot on the roster is certainly secure as the long reliever-slash-spot starter. Matt Capps and Glen Perkins occupy the closer and set-up slots at the back end of the 'pen; Duensing will be the second southpaw although he should only be pitched against weak right-handed hitters. With the loss of Joel Zumaya, that leaves three spots open in a seven-man bullpen.
Jeff Gray and Matt Maloney are also out of options, meaning they could be lost if exposed to waivers; Terry Doyle is a Rule 5 draft pick from Chicago, meaning he gets returned to the White Sox if he doesn't stay on the 25-man roster all year. Returning Gray and Maloney to triple-A then becomes a calculated risk, and to send Doyle to Rochester the Twins would be in another situation like last year where they swung a deal with the Braves to retain Scott Diamond.
Those issues complicate decisions for the Twins, but in spite of that fact none of those three are sure shots to make the roster. Alex Burnett has logged 98.1 Major League innings over the past two seasons, Lester Oliveros has the capability to miss a few more bats than most other in-house options, Kyle Waldrop can also induce grounders, and of course Diamond is still in play. Guys like Jared Burton and Jason Bulger are long shots, but have fans in the front office.
As for Manship? Minnesota has played an assortment of B-Squad games so far this spring, but in actual Grapefruit League action Manship has pitched well: 3 games, 3.1 innings, 5 strikeouts, 0 walks, 2 hits and a run allowed. He's looked good.
Unfortunately, spring training is less about the numbers you put up and more about what the coaches see...and circumstances. At this time last season Manship had played himself into a position where he'd logged his time and was next in line to become a bullpen regular. Now he's in a fight for one of three (or potentially two, if the Twins take 14 position players) relief roles, and circumstances mean he's not necessarily one of the front runners.
For me, it all comes back to that option. In Manship's case, that fourth option. If he was finished with his option years it's likely he'd be in a position where he'd go north with the Twins for the second year in a row. Instead, it gives the Twins a bit of maneuverability in a year where they probably don't feel like they have too much of it. If they prefer to go with Gray or Maloney - it's fine, Manship can be called up from Rochester. If they decide to go with a player like Burton or Bulger and lose a guy like Doyle - it's fine, Manship doesn't have to be removed from the roster, he has an option left.
Last season was certainly frustrating for Manship. This year may be frustrating for different reasons.