Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Shortstops and front offices

I have suspected, and frequently written, that Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was never all that happy with Jason Bartlett as his shortstop. I inferred this from the manager's reluctance to play Bartlett when it came time to replace Cristian Guzman and his harping on Bartlett's willingness to defer to such veterans as Luis Castillo and Tony Batista.

Bartlett became the regular shortstop in 2006 after Gardenhire was stripped of his alternatives. Terry Ryan released Batista (with Nick Punto taking third base) and traded away Juan Castro. Bartlett's defense was a big factor in the Twins' surge in 2006; the next season, he committed a string of errors that helped bury the Twins early in games down the stretch of a disappointing season. Ryan stepped aside late in 2007, and new general manager Bill Smith quickly included Bartlett in a big trade with Tampa Bay.

And the Twins really haven't been stable at shortstop since. They opened 2008 with Adam Everett at short and finished it with Punto there. They opened 2009 with Punto and ended with Orlando Cabrera. They traded for J.J. Hardy for the 2010 season; he didn't play 100 games. They moved Hardy and spent 2011 with a patchwork of incompetence (Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Alexi Casilla, Trevor Plouffe and Matt Tolbert). Now they intend to open 2012 with Jamey Carroll, a 38-year-old career utility infielder, at the position.

I drag all this history up because on Tuesday Brett Bollinger, the Twins beat reporter, posted a piece that said Gardnehire, talking about Carroll at short, said that he was never in favor of trading away Bartlett.

Maybe so. My inference was drawn from the doubtless simplistic equation: Gardenhire was reluctant to play Bartlett in 2005-'06; when Bartlett got the job in May of '06, it was because he was the only choice Ryan left Gardenhire; Bartlett made some crucial errors in '07; Ryan retired; and Bartlett was quickly out the door.

I wasn't, obviously, in the meetings, and I don't know what Gardenhire really thought of Bartlett then (or now). Certainly somebody (or somebodies) in the Twins organization underrated Bartlett at the time; he turned out to be the best player in what remains known as the Delmon Young-Matt Garza deal. Whether it was Gardenhire or Smith or somebody else, I don't really know, but I continue to doubt that Smith was substituting his judgement for that of the organization's more experienced evaluators.

I don't think it matters now; Bartlett is now with San Diego as a 32-year-old shortstop who hasn't hit for two seasons. Were he still a Twin, they might still have a shortstop question.

1 comment:

  1. Bartlett was a pretty mediocre shortstop with the Twins, especially on defense. He was said to be a savior in Tampa Bay but they moved him out of there pretty quickly. Without having a real stable replacement. Bartlett was and is a major league starting shortstop but average, at best. He looks good to Twins fans because of the Twins inability to replace him with anyone who was anywhere near average.

    Personally, I doubt whether Gardy "likes" someone has much bearing on anything. Most managers would play an ax murderer at short if he could make all the plays and hit a little. More than likely Gardy didn't like seeing Bartlett go without having someone to replace him or getting a viable shortstop in return.