Goodbye, Jason Tyner
Coming into today, the Twins had six arbitration-eligible players (Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Tyner, Jason Kubel, Matt Guerrier, and Juan Rincon) -- but only Tyner and Rincon were in legitimate danger of being non-tendered. Ultimately, the Twins decided to keep Juan Rincon around, but parted ways with Tyner. Congratulations to Seth Stohs, by the way, for scooping the world on this; he posted that this was going to happen last night.
At first glance, the decision to non-tender Tyner seems a bit curious. After all, in his three seasons with the Twins, Tyner hit .321 (56 AB's) in 2005, .312 (218 AB's) in 2006, and .286 (304 AB's) in 2007. He's not a great outfielder, but he's capable of playing center field, and the Twins don't have a lot of major league ready options at that position right now. Also, even as an arbitration eligible player, Tyner wouldn't have cost very much to keep around.
Looking a little deeper, though, the reasons for Tyner's dismissal become relatively apparent. For one thing, we know that Tyner wasn't going to be the Twins starting center-fielder next year, nor should we have wanted him to be. While it's a small sample size, the trend-line over his past three major league seasons suggests that the more Major League AB's he gets, the lower he hits. Give him 500 or more AB's, he might hit more in the neighborhood of .275 rather than .300. Further, Tyner as an everyday player would almost certainly be a liability defensively. We know, then, that someone other than Tyner was going to be starting in center for the Twins next year.
If you count the available roster spots, you will see that the Twins already will have 5 spots essentially committed to outfielders: Delmon Young (LF), the mystery CF, Michael Cuddyer (RF), Jason Kubel (DH), and Craig Monroe (LF/RF/DH). Adding two catchers, four starting infielders, and two backup infielders leaves you at thirteen players. If the Twins go in the direction that many teams are going and carry 12 pitchers, that would be it -- there would be no roster spot for a sixth outfielder like Tyner. Even if the Twins go with 11 pitchers, however (which they usually prefer to do), Tyner would be competing for that last roster spot with a third catcher or another backup infielder -- or a utility type player who could cover multiple positions. As much as I like Tyner, I don't know that he added enough to the team to justify keeping him around.
There is, of course, one obvious objection to this line of thinking: the Twins clearly need a backup center fielder for the as-yet-unknown starter. Tyner was an obvious choice for this role, and his departure leaves no obvious backup center fielder on the team. What's more, based on the roster breakdown I already discussed above, there doesn't appear to be room for one on the roster next year. What are the Twins planning on doing? The most likely answer is that the Twins will try to rely on two players to handle the backup center field duties: Delmon Young, who is out of position there got some action in center last season for the Rays; and Nick Punto, who by my count has played in CF during 6 games of his Major League career. These are not ideal solutions, but I'm presuming that the Twins will pick up a young, hopefully healthy center fielder who will not need all that much time off (I'm thinking Jacoby Ellsbury, yet again). If that's what ends up happening, this "problem" isn't as extensive as it at first would appear.
I'll miss Jason Tyner -- I think he was a fun player to watch, and I'm thrilled that he hit a homerun while he was a Twin. Too many fans ragged on Tyner last season, when he put together a decent year and did what the Twins were expecting him to do. I hope he finds a team that he can help next season. Goodbye, Jason -- I'll miss ya.