I've made no secret of my desire for Chuck James [to join the Twins for the rest of the season]. But in reading about him a bit, I'm starting to wonder if the Twins think much less of him.
Background: he is a former good starting pitcher for the Braves who needed shoulder surgery in 2008. After a year rehabbing, he was with the Nationals org last year, with a 2.32 ERA, .939 WHIP, 7.0K/9, and 1.5 BB/9 (albeit mostly in AA). According to a great article from Sloane Martin,
He was able to get back to the baseball shape and the pitching form he was accustomed to and was thankful for the Nationals’ patience and opportunity. But he chose to sign with the Twins because of their bullpen situation and the fact that the Nationals had so much young talent.
Basically, the Twins offseason revamping of the bullpen, combined with its lack of depth and young prospects in the bullpen, James was confident he’d be able to land a spot on the Major League roster.
Instead, James was sent to Rochester after spring break broke, with Perkins, Mijares, and Dusty Hughes as lefty relievers. He wasn't even added to the 40-man roster until Nathan's DL trip and the overall poor performance of the bullpen basically forced the team's hand.
While other relievers have frustrated and frightened fans by losing many late-inning leads (several sizable), James has been nearly lights-out in AAA: He currently has a 2.25 ERA in 40 innings (26 games), with a 10.9 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, and 1.175 WHIP.
One reason that he might be staying in Rochester is that there are many lefties in the pen already: Dumatrait, Perkins, and Mijares, and Dusty Hughes has seen his time as well. Yet, in his time with the Braves, James showed basically no platoon split: .254/.325/.468 vs RHB and .255/.339/.459 vs LHB. (Yes, those aren't great numbers, but that includes his awful 2008 before he underwent surgery.) I don't know how to find such splits for his last two years in the Minors, so maybe he's got more now. Either way, I'd rather see James pitching in high leverage situations against RHB than Burnett or even Capps. Eddie Guardado was a lefty closer (who thus faced batters from both sides of the plate), as was Brian Fuentes before coming to the Twins.
Concern about his once-injured shoulder could also be a problem, but pitching nearly two innings per appearance and as well as he has in AAA should show that he's doing well so far. (And if he would get called up and reinjure the shoulder, how exactly would that harm the Twins?)
I see in Chuck James a player that was basically available for free to the club due to his recovery from surgery, who has lived up to all of the potential that he could have. Unlike other bargain-bin attempts the Twins have made like Ramon Ortiz, Livan Hernandez, Sidney Ponson, Rondell White, Bret Boone, Carmen Cali, etc. (But like, say Dennys Reyes.) And unlike most of those guys, James wasn't given a major-league roster spot before he showed that he was ready.
What I see in James is a pitcher who has been sucessful as a major-league pitcher in the past and could contribute to the team for years, possibly even return to starting if there's a need for it and if he has the desire. (I'd like to think that a two-year extension at like $1.5 Million per might make sense if they bring him up, use him appropriately, and see him succeed.)
What I do not see is any indication that the club values him and would actually like to see him with the team. He was the last of the realistic bullpen options to be promoted, although he was pitching the best.
What I see in James is another pitcher that the club is completely undervaluing as they did Craig Breslow, to the point where I assume that they will let another team take him for nothing, and he will strike out many Twins in a row.
What I see in James is another player whose time the Twins are wasting, as they did Grudzielanek.
Martin quotes James:
I just felt like I had a better shot to maybe make the club out of spring here [with the Twins]. And then they ended up signing Dusty Hughes as a late signing and he’s done really well up there and against them last year. So I just try to put myself in the best situation possible, so that if something’s going well, then I’m not stuck somewhere. Then you just kind of play and let what happen what happens. ... When I’m on the mound I try to pitch quality and when I’m off the mound I’m trying to do some shoulder work to keep the shoulder healthy and preparing for the next time I’m going out. I just hope that I’m making a good enough name for myself that I get an opportunity.
We hope you get an opportunity, too.
Update: Chuck James pitched in last night's AAA ASG in Salt Lake City. The International League had a three-run lead in the seventh, when Chuck James entered with two outs and a runner on first.
First batter faced: Lefty, walked on the tenth pitch.
Second batter faced: Righty, struck out swinging on sixth pitch.
First batter faced: Lefty, walked on the tenth pitch.
Second batter faced: Lefty, struck out swinging on fourth pitch.
Removed for a righty to face a righty.
Yeah, I'd like fewer walks.
Now, I am not really versed in what kind of contracts are reasonable, what kind of injury James had, and I am very unclear on how former major-leaguers with new clubs are treated by options, arbitration schedules, etc. So some of the stuff above may be ridiculous (like that contract proposal), but this is what I'm feeling and thinking about the whole situation.
If anyone has any other thoughts on Chuck James, reasons why he might not be the bees' knees, other articles that could illuminate what's going on, minor-league splits, or information on whether the Twins could have any contract-control over James after this season, I'd love to hear it. Thanks for indulging me.