Tuesday, March 13, 2012

If not Nishi, who? Here's an idea

My Monday print column was on what I called "the Nishioka dilemma" -- that Tsuyoshi Nishioka appears overwhelmed even by the utility infielder job, yet the Twins not only have a significant investment in him but few palatable alternatives.

Then, in listening to the radio broadcast of the Twins exhibition game with Tampa Bay, it dawned on me that the Twins favorable waiver wire position can be a factor.

Tampa Bay has a number of players for its middle infield, and Joe Maddon mixes and matches to take advantage of their strengths and cover their failings. The bulk of the playing time in 2011 went to four men: Ben Zobrist, Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac and Elliot Johnson. All four remain with the Rays, but they also imported Jeff Keppinger.

It's an intriguing mix. Zobrist is a switch-hitter with power and a multitude of positions; a shortstop in the minors, he has played just about everywhere other than short for Maddon. Rodriguez, who also plays second and third, is stretched at short, but is a better hitter than either Brignac or Johnson, who are both, at least by the defensive metrics I've seen, superb shortstops. Keppinger is somewhat in the Rodriguez mode -- plays all infield spots, hits lefties OK.

Johnson is the guy I'm suddenly looking at. He's 28, a switch-hitter, and out of options. While he didn't hit much last year in the majors, he had an absurdly good season with the bat in Triple A in 2010 -- I say absurd because there's little in his nine-year professional record to suggest he could have that good a season.

I can see the Rays putting him on waivers late in spring training. And if they do, I hope the Twins claim him. Nobody can beat the Twins to him on a waiver offer. They have American League priority.

Johnson's not a great player -- but he's better than the Twins current set of alternatives.

Addendum: A point I should have made when I first posted this: Johnson is merely a specific name. That the Twins have the first waiver claim in the American League during spring training gives them dibs on anybody an AL team tries to outright to the minors.


  1. I like the idea of the Twins using the waiver wire for a decent utility infielder. Unless Nishioka shows improvement fast and then remains consistent at that level, he is destined for AAA or to be released.

  2. I'm wondering why the link to your print article takes me to a Scott Baker.

  3. Sorry, Chris. That link has now been fixed.