Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Slowey saga ends in Minnesota

On Tuesday afternoon, the Twins completed a move that many thought would be accomplished before the trading deadline in July. Kevin Slowey was traded to the Rockies for a player to be named later. The Denver Post threw out the name of Class A right-hander Parker Frazier as a possible candidate for the player to be named later. Even though Slowey started a handful of games for the Twins down the stretch, it seemed to be known that the Twins were trying to dish their pitcher because of a falling out with the organization earlier in the year.

Slowey was drafted by the Twins in 2005 as a second round pick out of Winthrop University. With his college experience, he moved through the Twins minor league system in short order and made his debut with the club in June 2007. The 2008 season was arguably the best season Slowey had in a Twins uniform. He finished the year with a (12-11) record, a 3.99 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.154 in 160.1 innings pitched. His two shutouts in 2008 were tied for the top spot on the AL Leader-board and his WAR of 2.3 was a career best. He found ways to get double digits in wins over the next two seasons but never again posted an ERA of under four or a WAR of over one.

As the Twins entered Spring Training in 2011, there was a battle for the final spots in the starting rotation. The team was looking at Slowey along with Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker for the final two spots in the five-man rotation. Blackburn got the fourth spot and Baker was given the fifth spot even though Slowey was arguably having the better spring. Slowey was relegated to the bullpen but even at that time a trade was still a possibility. After pitching 3.2 innings in April, Slowey ended up on the disabled list until May. He would make trips on and off the disabled list over the course of the season. Reports were that he didn't seem to be in any hurry to get back to the Twins and pitch out of the bullpen again. After a pit stop in Rochester, he found his way back into the starting rotation for the last six weeks of the season. In that span of games, he lost all eight starts that he made and he had an ERA of 7.25 in 44.2 innings pitched.

From the perspective of the Twins, it seemed that many in the organization had become frustrated with the way Slowey handled his demotion to the bullpen. Some of his injuries were blamed on his transition to the bullpen but his slight abdominal strain in May might have been the last straw. Slowey had to go to a specialist to diagnose his strain and the MRI and hernia exam came back negative. In the end, he was diagnosed with the lowest grade abdominal strain a person can have, a mild acute rectus abdominis strain.  He wouldn't appear on the major league roster again until August and his performance on the field was not over the top. In a recent conversation with season ticket holders, Ryan told the fans that he planned to wipe the slate clean with Slowey for the new season. Reports as recent as yesterday had Terry Ryan confirming that Slowey would be a starter if he was still with the Twins. But a GM trying to trade a pitcher is going to try to make his product as good as he can make it.

On Slowey's side of things, he felt that he should have been a starting pitcher at the start of the season. It seemed that it would only be a matter of time before he would take the place of one of the other starters. It is interesting to ponder what could have been for Mr. Slowey. If he had accepted his role in the bullpen and fought his way through some of the injuries, he might have been in the rotation for five months out of the season. His quirky personality never seemed to gel in the Twins clubhouse or with the media but that is still a tough reason to trade a 27-year old pitcher who has experienced recent success. Instead the team and Slowey went through a mess in the media and he found himself being shipped to Colorado on Monday.

The front office has been rumored to be in talks with a variety of other pitchers on the free agent market. Otherwise, it would be silly for the organization to lose some of their major league starting depth because of a rift between the coaching staff and the player. With Slowey gone and Brian Duensing expected to be back in the bullpen, the Twins are looking at a projected starting rotation with Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, and Nick Blackburn. The final spot in the rotation could be given to Liam Hendriks but he could most likely benefit from more time in AAA. If the Twins want more seasoning time for Hendriks, the final days of the Winter Meetings could decide who the Twins will bring in to complete the rest of the starting rotation for the 2012 Twins.

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