Friday, October 15, 2010

The price point of Nick Punto

One of my pet peeves regarding stories of free agents is the cliche line from athletes that staying with their current team "isn't up to me."

Nick Punto hit .238/.313/.302 last season.
Case in point: Carl Crawford, currently the left fielder for the Tampa Bay Rays, who will be a free agent after the World Series. After the Rays were eliminated the other night, the team owner came to Crawford's locker to say thank you, and Crawford told reporters: "I don't want to leave."

Well, he doesn't have to. There's a price point at which the Rays will be happy to re-sign Crawford. There's little chance that that price point will be high enough to satisfy him, but that's his choice. It's not that the Rays are rejecting him; they can't realistically fit him into their budget.

On the other hand, there's Nick Punto. The Twins are expected to decline Punto's $5 million option for 2011 and pay him a $500,000 buyout, making him a free agent. Says the infielder:

"I want to stay. There's unfinished business here. If something happens, wherever I go won't be a better place than here."

But this one might indeed be out of his hands. Punto is essentially the same player as Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert: switch-hitting middle infielders with little power. They are gloves and legs.

Even if Punto is willing to accept the same kind of money Casilla and Tolbert figure to get — and that's going to be closer to the major league minimum ($400,000) than to the $4 million Punto's been paid the past couple of seasons — it's probably the smarter percentage play to go with the younger guys.

Punto turns 33 next month and missed much of the second half with injuries. Tolbert is 28; Casilla is 26.

Manager Ron Gardenhire has valued — many fans say overvalued — what Punto brings to the table. But Punto's playing time dropped sharply this season, and in his limited second-half action he was decidedly unimpressive even at the things he usually does well.

There are a lot of moving pieces to the Twins infield puzzle this offseason, but I fully expect that one piece that will be moving elsewhere is Punto.


  1. I feel the same way about Crawford: Brad Radke said he wanted to stay in Minnesota...and made it happen. (He was paid quite handsomely to stay, but reportedly turned down higher offers.) Pretty much baseball players can go anywhere they want, if they're willing for it. (I know the player's union has a lot to say about about how players are paid, but I presume they can be reasonable.)

  2. The union would be exceedingly displeased if Crawford were to tell the Rays he'd take $1 million to stay, but there wouldn't be anything they could do to stop him. Tony Gwynn has said he took some heat for not pushing the envelope on his salary.

    Most players want as much as they can get, and one can't really blame them; most of us non-jocks would switch employers in a heartbeat for a big raise. It just irritates me when they pretend otherwise.