The Minnesota Twins are reeling, having lost eight of their last ten games to fall two-and-a-half game behind the Royals in the AL Central, and just a half-game above the Tigers for third place in the division. They've used one bullet, in calling up uber-prospect Byron Buxton to fill their gaping center field hole, and now must contemplate other ways to improve their roster if they're going to stay in the hunt.
One particular weakness of this Twins team is its bullpen. Glen Perkins has saved 22 games in 22 chances, and has been one of the best relievers in the American League. Behind him, however, are a collection of castoffs struggling to pitch effectively. Casey Fien has been hurt much of the year and has been booted from his eighth inning spot by Blaine Boyer. Aaron Thompson has stopped getting lefties out, which is a bad problem for a LOOGY to have. Meanwhile, Brian Duensing has imploded and Michael Tonkin has struggled in some kind of ROOGY role. AL relievers have compiled a 3.48 ERA so far in 2015, with a 2.58 K/BB ratio and 8.3 K/9. The Twins' staff has a 3.81 ERA in relief, with a 2.12 K/BB ratio and just 5.9 K/9. The pen needs reinforcements.
One potential option is Lester Oliveros, who is sitting at Triple-A Rochester, waiting to be called up. Oliveros was acquired by the Twins way back in 2011 for Delmon Young. When he got to Minnesota, he threw incredibly hard but had no idea where the ball was going. He's gotten 21 MLB innings, and posted 5.06 ERA. Over the offseason, the Twins exposed him to waivers, and he passed through unclaimed, in spite of strong numbers in the minors. Between Double- and Triple-A last year, he posted a 1.64 ERA and struck out 88 in 65.2 innings. He also managed to cut his walk rate.
That trend has continued in 2015, as the fireballer boasted a 2.38 ERA and 34 strikeouts against just 8 walks in 22.2 innings in his first 16 appearances. There's little doubt that, if they were so inclined, the Twins could promote Oliveros and have at least a replacement level arm with a lot of upside.
So why don't they?
Well, for one thing, Oliveros is suspended for another few games, the result of throwing at Yankees prospect Austin Romine's head. I don't just mean that a pitch got away from him. After giving up two consecutive homers, Oliveros very clearly aimed a fastball at Romine's earflap, and nonchalantly walked away as though it were nothing. Benches cleared, Oliveros was ejected, and the president of the International League suspended him for seven games, which is seven fewer than he probably should be serving in a just world where pitchers who deliberately go after batters with 100 mph missiles face severe penalties.
I mean, this is just unforgiveable:
Lester Oliveros allowed back-to-back HR and then did this with his next pitch to Austin Romine. pic.twitter.com/emKD61czOS— Parker Hageman (@ParkerHageman) June 13, 2015
He doesn't even have his former wildness to fall back on. That was just malicious.
Oliveros's actions bring up an important question: How far would you, as a fan, be comfortable with your team going to improve itself? To stay them in contention? At the risk of being melodramatic, how much of your soul is a couple of extra wins worth?
Me? I don't demand that ballplayers be good people. I've long ago had the hero-worship beaten out of me by Kirby Puckett and Chuck Knoblauch. But there are lines in the sand that I will not cross. One of those, obviously, is violence against women or kids. Ballplayers are almost exclusively (aside from Bartolo Colon) elite athletes. Big and strong, they could bully and dominate someone smaller than them with ease. I can't abide that.
Another line for me is the casual enforcement of baseball's code. The one that nods approvingly at pitchers risking the health and lives of hitters to satisfy their pride. As though giving a man a concussion somehow makes up for allowing a couple home runs. Baseballs, when thrown at that speed, are weapons, as much as a bullet. The fact that the person who was shot was wearing a Kevlar vest doesn't mitigate the actions of the person who pulled the trigger. And given what we know about the long-term effects of traumatic brain injury, these pitchers are putting another man's career and quality of life at risk when they go headhunting. It's unconscionable.
So, no. I don't think the Twins should call up Lester Oliveros. I wish, actually, that they'd just release him, except that he'd probably catch on somewhere. Better for him to simply rot at Rochester for now. I don't want to root for someone who has such a casual disregard for the health and safety of others. I don't want that kind of person to succeed in this game. All that does is embolden other pitchers to do the same, and to make a beautiful game uglier.