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Twins jettison knucklehead

6/25/2009

Joe Christensen on the Twins dumping a veteran reliever with a 4.18 ERA:

    As if the Twins weren't frustrated enough with Luis Ayala's pitching, the reliever helped force his way off the team by requesting a trade three weeks ago, Manager Ron Gardenhire said Tuesday.
    "He wanted an eighth-inning role; that's why he signed here," Gardenhire said. "His thoughts were if we gave him the ball in that eighth inning, he'd be able to do the job. My thoughts are, 'If you're not getting them out, you're not going to pitch in the eighth inning.' We're trying to win, so there's your difference."

    The Twins designated Ayala for assignment Monday, when they promoted righthander Bobby Keppel from Class AAA Rochester. Ayala, who notched nine saves for the Mets last season, came to the Twins on a one-year, $1.3 million deal and posted a 4.18 ERA in 28 appearances.

    The first three times the Twins trusted Ayala with a seventh-inning lead, he wound up with blown saves.

    "When you walk into my office and tell me you don't like your role -- and he talked about his contract for next year -- you lose me right there," Gardenhire said. "I don't deal with that. We're talking about winning now." The Twins have nine more days to either trade or waive Ayala, and there were indications the Pirates have expressed interest.

Relievers are fungible, generally. Ayala can pitch; he just can't pitch particularly well, and relievers who can't pitch particularly well ... well, if you walk under enough trees, a reliever just like Ayala is eventually going to fall on your head. In Ayala's first three seasons (2003-2005) he posted a 2.75 ERA, but since Tommy John surgery in 2006 he's never been quite the same. Since then, he's been Just Another Guy (or if you prefer, Just Another Reliever).
Guys like Ayala get $1.3 million to pitch. Good work if you can get it, more power to him, what a country, etc. You can't really hold Ayala's salary against him, as he does throw a baseball more than 90 miles an hour and usually has a pretty good idea about where it's going.

But of course it's one thing to be fungible, and it's another to be a fungible knucklehead who annoys the manager. The Twins might miss Ayala's fastball, a little bit. But there are other guys with fastballs on trees, nice and ripe for the picking, who are happy to pull at the same end of the rope as everyone else. And if the Twins wind up in the playoffs this year, we might reasonably look back at this moment as one of the reasons.