For once, the Twins didn't make their fans wait until the very last second to see who would open the season with the big club.
Brian Buscher and Matt Tolbert had been locked in a fierce battle for the last spot, and while some speculated that it could be a three player competition with Brendan Harris for two spots, Harris was never really under duress.
Two factors probably made this decision easier than it looked for the Twins.
First, Tolbert is primarily a middle infielder and the Twins already have several of those. Alexi Casilla had a strong spring as did Brendan Harris, and Nick Punto is a lock to get playing time even if he shouldn't.
With starters in place and a back-up already ahead of him, Tolbert could find playing time hard to come by. While he did play some third base last year, he wasn't particularly good at it.
Buscher, on the other hand, plays the corners. While Joe Crede claims to be healthy, not having a back-up ready to step in at a moment's notice would be a bit foolish until he proves to actually be in playing shape.
Not only is Crede and injury risk, but Justin Morneau has a bad back and may see time on the DL. If this is the case, Buscher becomes doubly valuable, since he can play either position.
He's still a subpar defender, but with Joe Mauer and either Crede or Morneau out of the line up, the Twins simply have to have run producers in the game.
This brings up the second factor: Tolbert and Buscher's respective offensive prowess.
Buscher hit .382/.462/1.007 this spring compared to Tolbert's .294/.385/.841. If either player was likely to bring that line north with him, he would have won the spot.
It isn't going to happen.
Buscher may have hit one fewer home run than Tolbert this spring, but he was much more consistent. He never went more than two games without getting a hit, while Tolbert started the month of March 0-for-15.
With Mauer out, the Twins cannot afford to have another light-hitting player in their lineup, which makes Tolbert the odd man out.
Like Alexi Casilla last year, Tolbert won't languish long in AAA. Injuries tend to appear quickly at the beginning of the year, and he'll almost certainly be the first person called up if someone in the infield falls prey to injury.
With Tolbert heading to upstate New York, the Twins roster is set:
DL: Joe Mauer, Scott Baker
C: Jose Morales, Mike Redmond
IF: Brian Buscher, Alexi Casilla, Joe Crede, Brendan Harris, Justin Moreanu, Nick Punto
OF: Michael Cuddyer, Carlos Gomez, Jason Kubel, Denard Span, Delmon Young
SP: Nick Blackburn, R.A. Dickey, Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey
RP: Luis Ayala, Craig Breslow, Jesse Crain, Brian Duensing, Matt Guerrier, Philip Humber, Joe Nathan
When Mauer returns, Morales will move back to AAA; when Baker comes back, I see Dickey moving into the pen and Philip Humber being put on waivers. Brian Duensing could be moved to AAA to prevent the loss of Humber, but that leaves Breslow as the sole lefty in the 'pen.
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