in his first season
in the affiliated
minors last year.
The primary reason for carrying the third catcher was the 90 games — a bit more than half the season — of DH duties for Mauer and Doumit. Catcher is a highly specialized defensive position, and managers are loathe to be without one on the bench in case of injury. While a DH can take the field, the result is that the pitchers would have to hit for the remainder of the game.
Mauer, at least in theory, is to catch more this year, and if that does occur, Doumit is likely to get a heavier share of the DH duties. In which case the basic motivation for granting a roster spot to Butera remains intact, even though the playing time would diminish.
But Ron Gardenhire said last week that he's not committed to carrying three catchers, and that he wants to have a pinch-hitting threat on his bench this year — probably thinking in terms of hitting for Pedro Florimon, the front runner for the shortstop job.
This line of thought, coupled with Jim Thome's public appeal for a job, has a goodly portion of the Twins twitterverse hoping for Thome's return. I'm not in favor; I think Thome's about done, and even if he isn't, he's not a particularly good fit for the Twins roster.
Thome's tried being a pinch-hit specialist a couple of times for National League teams, and has found he needs a steady dose of at-bats. Using him as a DH would necessarily take at-bats away from one of the Doumit-Chris Parmelee-Mauer-Justin Morneau-Josh Willingham collection of catchers/first basemen/corner outfielders. While it's not a bad idea to spell Doumit (and perhaps Parmelee) against left-handed pitchers, Thome is not the guy to do that with.
If the Twins do forego a third catcher in order to carry a bench bat, better that it be a right-handed hitter. I don't know that they have that guy in camp — maybe non-roster invitee Chris Colabello, a 29-year-old refugee from an independent league who had a big season with the Twins Double A club last year. Colabello will be leaving camp soon to play for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, but he's gotten a couple of notable hits in the early exhibition games.
If Colabello, or someone of his right-handed ilk, wins the roster spot, he could get his "stay-sharp" at-bats against lefties and, at least in theory, improve the lineup by limiting Doumit's right-handed at-bats.
Gardenhire has shown little concern over the years about maximizing the platoon advantage with his hitters, and would probably prefer Thome to Colabello (or any right-handed hitter). That scenario appears to me a case in which the front office — meaning general manager Terry Ryan — needs to protect Gardenhire from himself.