Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Nick Punto and the quest for infield stablity

Monday's post traced the instability of the Twins infield over the past five seasons. Of the 20 spots -- four per season -- exactly eight regulars made it from opening day to seasons end still the regular at that position.

That's a lot of in-season turnover. And that kind of turmoil is behind the move to younger, unproven players. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Alexi Casilla and Danny Valencia all offer the possibility of being four- and five year solutions to their positions.

Being unproven -- Casilla has the most MLB experience, and the fewest credentials -- they also offer the possibility that they will turn their position into a problem.

Alexi Casilla: Can he
establish himself
as a major league regular?
Which, as I noted Monday, is why manager Ron Gardenhire doubtless wants Nick Punto back. Punto has plugged infield holes in the past for him.

Here is the argument for the front office to deny Gardy that security blanket: Juan Castro.

Flash back to 2005. Cristian Guzman has left as a free agent. The Twins have a minor leaguer, Jason Bartlett, apparently ready to step in; they also have Punto. And then they signed Castro, a veteran good glove, no-hit infielder.

With Castro at his disposal, Gardenhire refused to commit to Bartlett, even demoting Bartlett at the end of spring training 2006 even though he had clearly outperformed Castro. (Gardy's stated reason -- that the young Bartlett was deferring to the veteran infielders, Luis Castillo and Tony Bautista -- seemed ludicrous then and now.)

It wasn't until then-general manager Terry Ryan dumped Castro on the Cincinnati Reds (and cut Bautista loose) that Gardenhire played Bartlett. He had to; there was no other option.

Similarly, it may well be that if Punto is re-signed with the intent of having him serve as a backup, that Gardenhire will edge away from the plan of putting the load on Casilla.

If Casilla fails, there's Matt Tolbert and Trevor Plouffe and the possibility of a midseason deal. But if Casilla plays part time and Punto plays part time, the goal of stabilizing the infield is missed.

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