Friday, March 30, 2007

Short at Short

Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan can be a stubborn bunch, so now that the Twins 25 man regular season roster has been finalized, I'd be pretty surprised to see them tweak it before opening day. It's just not the way things are done in Twins territory.

All throughout spring training, we heard Gardenhire's opinion that the number one concern for the club was finding a backup shortstop. Gardy was too stubborn to want Nick Punto - the team's starting third baseman, but a natural shortstop - to play any position other than third, instead opting to give Luis Rodriguez and Jeff Cirillo a heavy shortstop workload over the past two weeks of spring. These are not answers. Rodriguez is a marginal second baseman and bad third baseman, and is not even close to possessing the range necessary to handle short. Cirillo is a two-time All Star who was once one of the premier defensive third basemen in baseball, but he is 37 years old and has played exactly five games at shortstop in his thirteen big league seasons.

Unable to acquire a backup shortstop, Gardenhire finally conceded the other day that if and when Jason Bartlett needs a day off, he will in all likelihood play Punto at shortstop and plug either Cirillo or Rodriguez at third (hopefully Cirillo!), which is just common sense.

Tonight, though, just hours after J.D. Durbin's release and Josh Rabe's demotion to Rochester, for all intents and purposes finalizing the roster, the Kansas City Royals released the perfect piece to this Twins puzzle.

Alex Gonzalez (not to be confused with the current Reds and former Red Sox and Marlins shortstop), the longtime Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago Cubs shortstop, was trying to make the Royals as a utility infielder. He was in Royals camp on a minor league contract and probably would have made the team had second baseman Mark Grudzielanek's injury been as serious as originally thought.

Gonzalez hit .444 this spring for the Royals, and while that is hardly in line with his .243 career average, it did show that he still has something left in the tank. While it does seem like he's been in a major league uniform for ages, he's still just 33 years old. He has a reputation of a solid, if not spectacular, defender and a good teammate. He averaged about 15 home runs a year as a full-time player from 1996 to 2003. And as recently as 2005, he hit .269 with 9 home runs in 349 at bats.

Gonzalez wouldn't push Bartlett or Luis Castillo for their jobs, and he certainly won't be a name that would generate much excitement among the general Twins fan base, but personally, I would feel a hell of a lot better with him as my primary utility infielder than Luis Rodriguez. He's out there right now, easily available for a pittance. Dammit, though, Gardy and Ryan have decided on their 25 guys, and with opening day three days away, I don't see them changing their minds now.


At 4:18 PM, Blogger Mark said...

Not a bad idea. What about Javy Lopez instead of Chris Heintz? Veteran late inning bat off of the bench, third catcher, former all star.

At 2:48 PM, Blogger Dan said...

Lopez would never happen, nor should it. Heintz's roster spot exists because he can handle the backup catcher job defensively. Any offense is a bonus. Lopez has never been a great defensive catcher, and if he didn't prove his bat was washed up last year, when both the Orioles and Red Sox released him, he certainly did this year when the Rockies cut him barely two weeks into camp. He has stated that he still wants to be a starter and would only consider a backup gig in Atlanta. Translation: Javy Lopez's career is probably over.


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