Posted at 7:58 PM on September 18, 2007
by Chris Dall
Anyone catch the item in today's Star Tribune about Nick Punto having the edge over Alexi Casilla for the second base job next year?
Yes indeed, it's a bit of surprise, given Punto's atrocius offensive stats this year, which have already been discussed in great detail on this blog. Granted, Casilla has been shaky in the field and not so great at the plate, but it's still a bit of a shock to see Ron Gardenhire letting a .200 hitter know the job is his to lose.
My guess is that this is Gardenhire's way of both boosting Punto's confidence and lighting a fire underneath Casilla, because it's hard to believe he's already given up on a guy who, if we're to understand the Castillo trade, was the second baseman in waiting. I wonder if he would have made these comments if Ryan was still going to be the GM next year?
But Gardy also seems to be one of those managers who has "his guys," players that he likes and trusts and will give a lot of rope to (a style that can earn the loyalty of players and the wrath of fans). Punto didn't seem to be one of those players a few years ago, when he couldn't stay on the field, but clearly Gardenhire has come to appreciate his defense and his hustle.
What's most unsettling about the article is the suggestion that moving Punto to second would enable the Twins to bring in a new third baseman in the offseason. One would hope that the Twins would be searching for a new third baseman even if they didn't have a place to move Punto. That statement says tons about the state of the Twins.
Despite this year, I like Punto. He's a team player. But I think, if anything, this year has exposed the fact that he's better suited to a utility role, which will allow the Twins to get the most of his ability to play several positions and his solid defense. It would help if he could learn to lay down a bunt, too.
I wonder if secondbase is changing, the way shortstop changed when Cal Ripken came along?
I note that the top three secondbasemen in baseball have as many homers as the top three centerfielders in baseball now.
Also wonder if Gardenhire is falling into the trap of favoring players who mirror him as a player. He couldn't hit a lick either.
BTW, reports of Punto's outstanding defense are way overblown. His range factor at second is actually below league average.
Luis Rivas, who was run out of town -- and approrpriately so -- because of his offense, also had a below-average range factor. But, for the record, he had a higher OBP than either of the two the Twins have stuck up the middle since.
BTW, how'd you like to be the Twins' marketing department and have to whip people into a ticket-buying frenzy for '08 with your manager declaring Nick Punto is the answer at second?