Like a couple that breaks up, each goes out on one chemistry-less first date with a new person, and immediately gets back together, Matt Belisle has rejoined the Twins’ bullpen. They probably didn’t even change the Netflix password.
Last offseason, Belisle signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Twins and logged 60 decent innings in an assortment of relief roles. He was particularly effective after taking over as closer following the July 31 trade of Brandon Kintzler, converting nine saves with a 2.55 ERA and 19/3 K/BB ratio in August and September. However, the 38-year-old right-hander found the free agent market lacking and eventually settled for a minor-league deal with the Indians.
Belisle earned a spot on the Opening Day roster, but 10 mediocre innings later the Indians cut him loose. He again found the free agent market lacking, re-signing with the Indians on another minor-league deal in mid-May. Then the Twins came calling, so the Indians granted Belisle his release from Triple-A and now he’s right back in the majors with Minnesota.
“They’re perfect for each other” is a thing people often say about couples. Sometimes it’s because both parties are very attractive and very charming and similarly great catches who seem to complement each other well—Chrissy Teigen and John Legend come to mind. But sometimes it’s just hard to imagine anyone liking either of them, so it’s a miracle they found each other—this time I’ll let you picture a specific couple in your head, because I’ll bet you’ve got one in mind. Anyway, the Twins and Belisle are perfect for each other.
Minnesota’s bullpen ranks 17th in Deserved Run Average, 21st in ERA, and 23rd in Win Probability Added, with an MLB-worst 3-13 record in one-run games. The Fernando Rodney Experience™ has actually gone pretty well so far in the ninth inning, but recently setup men Ryan Pressly and Addison Reed have struggled. Part of the problem is that the Twins have played a ton of low-scoring games, thanks in part to their inconsistent lineup failing to provide much cushion for a surprisingly solid starting rotation, and manager Paul Molitor has worked his right-handed setup trio of Pressly, Reed, and Trevor Hildenberger very hard.
Pressly has pitched in 35 of the Twins’ first 64 games, putting him on an 89-appearance pace that includes working back-to-back days 10 times. Reed and Hildenberger are on pace for 81 and 76 appearances, respectively. Those are appearance totals typically reserved for left-handed specialists, not right-handers who often pitch full innings and occasionally pitch multiple innings. Three key relievers with those workloads in the same bullpen is an implosion waiting to happen.
Minnesota needed competent bullpen help and Belisle can potentially provide that while also giving a boost to a clubhouse that viewed him as a leader last season. Even if he’s no better than mediocre, Belisle should at least be another right-handed option Molitor trusts enough not to continue riding Pressly, Reed, and Hildenberger into the ground. It’s a move that makes sense, but it’s also a low-wattage move for a team dramatically under-performing expectations, and there’s certainly an argument to be made for the Twins aiming a little higher than re-signing a 38-year-old castoff with middle relief-caliber stuff.
For example, if the Twins felt they needed another reliable right-handed reliever they could have simply recalled Alan Busenitz from Triple-A, where he has a 0.71 ERA and 29/5 K/BB ratio in 25 innings. Busenitz is 27 years old, he fared well as a rookie last season with a 1.98 ERA and 23/9 K/BB ratio in 32 innings for the Twins, and his 95.7 mph average fastball velocity would be the second-highest in Minnesota’s bullpen behind only Pressly (96.3). Belisle is fine and he’s familiar, but Busenitz might be worth a second date.