Monday, September 26, 2011

On Free Agent Shortstops

As they look ahead to next season, the Twins know that there are a lot of areas on the roster they should probably address.

Here is a resource,, for those of you who want to get into the management side of sports.

The rotation is plagued by ongoing injury concerns. Joe Mauer's ability to remain at catcher is in question -- same with Justin Morneau and first base. The outfield is in a serious state of flux, with Denard Span battling concussion symptoms while Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel prepare to test free agency.

It'd be nice to add players at all these positions during the offseason, so as to build a foundation of depth that might prevent a similar disaster next season. There's one spot, however, where upgrading ought to be a mandate rather than a luxury. That position is shortstop.

Even if all the players mentioned above heal splendidly during the winter months -- which frankly would border on miraculous -- the Twins still won't have a player in the organization that they can feel comfortable about starting at one of the most important positions on the field. The Tsuyoshi Nishioka experiment is looking at this point like a complete bust, and while I believe Trevor Plouffe will figure things out eventually he's done himself no favors during this erratic late-season audition.

Without a doubt, the Twins are going to need to acquire someone to at least compete with Plouffe and Nishioka for a starting job next spring. Unfortunately, shortstop is always one of the toughest positions to address in free agency and that's certainly true this year. I sorted through the options in my research for the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook, and suffice to say that the crop drops off very sharply after Jose Reyes.

One could certainly make a case that the Twins, who will have some money available this offseason and could use an exciting shape-up, would be wise to make a run at Reyes. He's a premier player at his position and he's wrapping up an excellent campaign.

Unfortunately, there are two things about him that should be viewed by Twins fans as red flags. One is his injury history; he's missed 191 games over the last three years. The other is his lack of outstanding power. It's extremely tough to find shortstops with good pop, but the problem is that a Reyes contract would consume money that the Twins -- who have hit the third-fewest home runs in baseball this year -- might have otherwise used on re-signing Cuddyer or Kubel, or on acquiring another power bat.

The Twins are probably best served by looking to the trade market and trying to find a buy-low candidate, like the Orioles did last year with J.J. Hardy. Free agency offers more in terms of solid depth than legitimate starters. If depth is the goal, though, the Twins might consider turning their gaze to a familiar face.

Nick Punto has been limited to 59 games for the Cardinals this year because of injuries, but when he's played he's been productive, batting .258/.373/.379 with an excellent 20-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio while bringing plenty of value with the glove as usual. His suspect health is obviously a sticking point, but if he comes as cheap as he did for St. Louis last winter ($750K), what's the harm in bringing him aboard? You don't sign him and designate him as your starting shortstop, but he's very handy to have around and for all grumbling about him from Twins fans over the years, there's no question that the team missed him this season.

It may be that Punto is only an incremental upgrade over the likes of Matt Tolbert, but perhaps incremental upgrades are what the front office should be focusing on. Fans yearn for that Reyes-like offseason home run, but what this season revealed is that the club's second tier of players is in a state of disrepair. What happens with the top-level guys like Mauer, Morneau and Span will happen, but either way the rest of the roster needs to get better, with stronger depth across the board.

Adding a player like Punto would help accomplish that. As far as finding a starter at shortstop, it doesn't look like free agency is the answer.


Maija said...

Punto. Punto. PUNTO. PUNTO. PUNTO!!!

Anonymous said...

This evening I returned to my desk to find an email from my wife, in which she declares her interest to leave me, and a post from Nick Nelson, in which he considers the (re)acquisition of Nick Punto to be a potential cure to the ailments of the Minnesota Twins. It is unclear to me what is more upsetting.

Anonymous said...

.373 OBP for Punto.

I woner how much of that is aided by batting in front of the pitcher?

Mike said...

I've been saying since the offseason that I was going to miss Punto around. He doesn't hit for power and sometimes, he doesn't hit for average, either.

Despite that, his career OBP is pretty good and he always seemed to know how to advance a runner when the Twins needed to advance a runner. Throw in that he's an excellent defender and he could have added a lot to the Twins this season.

I don't think he's an incremental improvement over Tolbert at all- I think he's a huge improvement over Tolbert. Compared to Tolbert, Punto steals more bases (at approximately the same rate), makes fewer errors, has better fielding range, has a higher career BA, OBP, slugging %, and OPS.

Punto isn't going to a guy to carry a team through the postseason on his back, but he would still help to shore up a position (or two) that were huge sore spots for the Twins.

Anonymous said...

Adding Punto to the team serves no real purpose unless Nishioka and/or Plouffe won't be on the bench next year. He isn't a starter. Adding Punto for less than say 1 million (he makes 800k this year) might add 1 win to the Twins for next year depending if he plays full-time or not. If he does play full-time then there is no benefit. If he is the utility fielder than there is a benefit in the field and he may add 1 win to the team. Expect Punto to put up horrid hitting numbers as he has almost every year in the AL where he won't be in a hitters park, the NL, hitting 8th ahead of a pitcher, or have Berkman, Holiday and the King hitting ahead of him.

Nick N. said...

I woner how much of that is aided by batting in front of the pitcher?

Is it really any different from hitting in front of Drew Butera?

Ed Bast said...

While we're at it, let's bring back Lew Ford too. He also tried hard, was below average at baseball, and would be cheap. Also we should bring back Luis Rivas and Cristian Guzman, there's some real speed there, and also some cheap below-averageness.

You already have 3 below-average "shortstops" on the roster in Nishi, Plouffe, Casilla. (Bringing back Tolbert would be hilarious). Why pay for a 4th?

Time for this organization to move forward, not back.

Anonymous said...

.586 OBP hitting 8th in front of the pitcher. His numbers look nice cause of the OBP, but lets be honest. He still can't hit, he stil can't stay healthy.

Anonymous said...

Do your homework Nick, don't pimp up Punto's numbers when they're all nice cause he's hitting into front of the pitcher. What's his numbers look like when he isn't hitting 8th?

Lazy and sloppy...

Nick N. said...

Punto's OBP during his last three years in Minnesota: .344, .337, .313. Compare those to the OBP figures posted by the Twins' various infielders this year. Even in his god-awful, disastrous 2007 campaign, Punto's OPS was 50 points higher than Tolbert's this year.

No one's saying Punto will repeat his numbers from this season, but he's been a solid on-base guy with a good plate approach throughout his career, and most importantly his reliable glove would be a boon for this team after what we've had to watch this year.

Nick N. said...

Lazy and sloppy...

As lazy and sloppy as anonymously posting a typo-filled critique that provides no alternative ideas? Or not quite?

Anonymous said...

Nick Punto would be a solid pick-up for a bench utility guy that's it. Simple as that. If you want to argue Butera or a pitcher that's fine. I also brought up that he plays in a hitters park, he plays in the NL and he plays on a team that can hit and hit very well. His sample size is 59 games and Punto is pretty light with stats around that high OBP. Methinks if Nishioka had the stat line Punto has in 59 games you would still clamor for a guy that can't play short at all.
I also take issue with that talk that there is a lack of quality SS in the free agent market. I think it's probably the best class in years.
Jose Reyes brings you 5-6 value in WAR. Power is of little concern when his defense, OBP, Average and SB threat. The concern is injury and cost. The Twins shouldn't look to add power in Target field they should look at add speed and defense. Yeah I'm fine with them signing Prince or Albert for power but yeah not going to happen.
Jimmy Rollins is available and while 33 depending on contract would be a HUGE upgrade. Marco Scutaro might not get his option picked up and would be another big upgrade at short. He may be cheap. Omar Infante can play 2B at gold glove level and is a solid at short. He also has some power and is decent with the bat. Rich man's Nick Punto. Ramon Santiago is an above average fielder and a decent hitter at short. Another upgrade. There are lots of Free Agent options at short. The Twins would be wise to get one of them.

Anonymous said...

When you are thinking of a starting outfield of Revere, Span and Benson, is SS really that big of deal?
I can't really see how next year will be any better than this year even if Joe and Justin are healthy, if we have the outfield above and the same left side of the infield (including 2B)

T said...

Oh Nick, for as reasonable an argument as you can muster you know full well that any mention of "The Punto" will inevitably lead us to this point.

Here's my (admittedly Anonymous) take on it:

Nick Punto was often (inappropriately) used as a starter, however it wasn't for the Twins lack of trying other options. Gardy showed a willingness to try other players in the starting lineup over Punto, only going back to him once those players either proved ineffective or unable to stay healthy.

Heck, there was one season where the Twins tried guys like Tommy Friggin Watkins before they went back to Punto as an everyday starter.

That said, the Punto-Hatred is some of the most god-awful unreasonable venom I've ever seen. It makes the crap being flung at Mauer about his health seem tame by comparison. And if there's ANY player that can do the same job as Punto I pray that the team can go find that guy instead of forcing those of us in the Twins online fandom to have to ever put up with that again.

And while I don't doubt Punto could provide some sort of stability in the clubhouse and maybe even help defensively when neccesary...the Twins have so many more pressing matters to attend to than a bench utility player.

If the Twins do decide to troll the fandumb and bring back Punto, then it better be done AFTER they've found a more reliable backup C than Butera, and while also finding a way to move Tolbert and Nishi off the main roster.

Josh said...

I'd actually be OK with bringing back Punto if the price tag was under $1M and his role was clearly defined as a utility player/INF spot starter. My previous objections to Lil' Nicky Punto, Tiny Super-hero (tm Batgirl) was more about his inflated salary and excessive playing time than performance, really.

LNP is a nice utility player. He has positional flexibility, gives you average to superior defense at multiple spots, can work a count and take a walk, etc. As an everyday player his lack of power is exposed, he can't really stay healthy any longer, and I think the grind drags him down further at the plate.

The real problem with bringing back Punto is the manager: Gardy LOVES this guy and you have to wonder how long ti would be before he's getting significant numbers of starts over guys like Nishioka and Valencia, regardless of performance. LNP is one of those Gardy guys where he can go 0-34, but the manager will only remember the 1 bloop double that gave the team a lead in the 7th inning one game and talk about him as a "clutch player". Whereas someone like Valencia could go 12-34 in the same stretch with 2 HRs and few doubles and the only thing the manager wants to talk about was him missing a sign in the 3rd inning or pulling the 1B off the bag on a throw where Brooks Robinson wouldn't have nailed the runner.

(No, I'm not comparing Valencia to Brooks Robinson. But Gardy does act like guys like Punto & Butera are defensive wizards LIKE Brooksie)

So while bringing back LNP looks reasonable on paper, it might not be in the best overall interests of the club if the manager still thinks he has 2006 LNP and not 2012 LNP.

Twins6 said...

Punto would be a nice addition to the bench IF we can find someone to be a solid starter. Looking at the Twins' history of poor offseason trades and their innate ability to not pick up a player who is a subpar to say the least, I am not hoping for too much at this point. It would be great to get Jose Reyes on the team. The Twins would benefit immediately from his defense, hitting and base-running abilities. However, do we really see the Twins fixing the obvious problem permanently or just slapping a bandaid on it? I have no doubt we'll end up getting more relief pitchers like we do every year and fail to rebuild as we should. The front office is so far off base with what needs to be done versus what they want.

Mike said...

I like how so many posters here criticize the suggestion of bringing Punto back for cheap, yet have no reasonable alternative suggestion.

Butera has been worse than a pitcher, hitting-wise. I don't really care if Punto was hitting in front of the pitcher. And as far as pitcher-friendly, hitter-friendly; that's really most applicable to home runs, which isn't relevant for Punto regardless of where he plays.

He does the smaller things well- the fundamentals, which is something that we sorely missed on the 2011 Twins, particularly in the middle infield. The guy knows how to field multiple positions and his OBP- even in the AL, was easily over .300.

You don't WANT Punto to be the starter. You want him to be a utility backup/spot starter. But is anyone really arguing that who the Twins had this year were really better than Punto? As far as Punto adding only 1 win to the team, I have to think that his defense would have prevented more than 1 loss if he was in the middle infield instead of just Plouffe...

ritesofopatches said...

I am for anything that means I never have to look at Tolbert again.

Anonymous said...

Someone already said it, but I'll reiterate it. My only problem with Punto was the high salary for a mediocre utility infielder.

Anonymous said...

Free Agent Shortstops is not the Twins problem - Over the past three years the Twins have had some of the most talented players in MLB... and yet no success in the playoffs. When you have talent out the kazoo, Golden Gloves, Batting Champions; all under the Twins Logo what does that leave you when you the season ends and all Twins players, Coaches and fans are watching the World Series on TV?

I think it is time for the Twins to look for leadership other than Gardenhire. No question he is a nice guy, but the time has come to move on, the opportunity for him and the Twins has come and gone - White Sozx just dealt Ozzie to the Marlins - and Ozzie brought them to the WS and a win... and then there is Gardy, sorry but it is time.

mgraves said...

Mr Nelson--liking the essay, but your response comments may be better. Pithy.

Off topic--the Rockies are allegedly shopping Iannetta--should the Twins be interested? Maybe the Rocks would give the Twins a discount for sending Morales that way last winter.

Also off topic--The Royals have the second best run differential in the AL Central. Just thought it was interesting.

Anonymous said...

The only problem I have with Punto is that Gardy falls in love with the guy and then he gets way too many at bats. He's clearly an upgrade over Tolbert and Nishioka (not a very high hurdle) but he's no long term solution. That still leaves a big question mark at 2B because Casilla just doesn't seem like a starter. I think it might make more sense to bring in a starter at 2B and use some type of platoon arrangement at SS. Could Plouffe replace Cuddyer in RF? I'm not sure this team can afford to pay Cuddyer but their aren't a lot of good FA options out their for power hitting outfielders.
Having said this, I think C.J. Wilson should be priority #1.

Ed Bast said...

Everyone needs to read the interview with Jim Pohlad in the Strib before renewing season tickets for next year. Spoiler: nothing's going to change. The arrogance and contempt for the fans he displays is revolting. As a fan it was absolutely insulting to read. For all of those who have ridiculed me for suggesting all the Pohlads care about is the bottom line, read the interview.

I'm so disillusioned by this franchise right now. It's just so sad to think how far this franchise has fallen even with this gorgeous new taxpayer-funded stadium. Beyond bwords, really.

dirleton said...

Ed ---

You did notice, I assume, that the Pohlad piece came out AFTER season ticket renewals were due. Your comments are spot-on.

Anonymous said...

Nick - your thought of bringing back Punto makes us think you'd fill Bill Smith's shoes perfectly.

Doug said...

I agree with Nick - resign Nick Punto - that guy worked hard for us and there was never doubt about his effort or attitude. with guys we have in our infield, I'd take Punto in a second. it seems like some of you just like to complain about him and don't remember how much he hustled!

Anonymous said...

Even discussing Punto only makes sense if a GM is trying to turn a 61 win team into a 63 win team. Punto makes no sense as an ACTUAL replacement shortstop.

He gets hurt more than the guys we have and throw out his weak NL batting average. It would be like counting on T Jack to come back to the Vikings because McNabb isn't the answer.

This makes ZERO sense.

Anonymous said...

Hey ED Bast - Please stop being a fan. That would be great. I read the article and I don't see anything wrong with what Polad said. You are pissed because he isn't going to fire Bill Smith or Gardy OR change how the Twins play. All of which DON'T need to happen. Almost every owner of EVERY professional sports team cares almost 100% about the bottom line. It's a business for profit. As for the Twins he wasn't going to slash payroll he thought many players were needed to improve and he was hopefully they could improve injury issues. Get of your whiny high horse. You hate Mauer, hate Gardy and hate the front office. The Twins had a horrid season one out of the last 10. Yeah they have fallen far if you are a negative baby who won't admit or look to see any upside in the coming season. You have no real outlook on how to improve the Twins except on moronic moves like trading Joe Mauer, firing Bill Smith and playing like the Royals and my favorite - Changing the Twins philosophy on how they play. Who can root for a team that has such sucess in the last 25 years but be so negative based on one season? Just stop and go root for the Yankees.

Anonymous said...

Punto? Really? I guess that shows the sad state of affairs if people are circling back to consider Punto as a solid acquisition. Punto isn't the answer...

While we're at it, let's resign Cuddy and move him to SP.

Ed Bast (Twins Fan) said...

Sean, you realize the hilarious irony of telling someone to get off their "high horse" while in the same breath telling them they shouldn't be allowed to be a fan anymore, right? Who appointed you the marshall of Twins fandom?

Get off YOUR high horse, sir, and realize that being a fan means different things to different people. That's the terrific thing about sports - you can choose your own method of being a fan.

You (and Jim Pohlad) think the Twins don't need to change anything? Fine. I disagree. This is a forum for opinions. You won't always agree with every one. Deal with it.

Anonymous said...

I read the Pohlad piece this morning and I have to agree that I didn't see him saying that they don't need to change anything. I think he's just trying to be level headed about how they get better. I think the last thing we need is to bring in a bunch of FA's who are expensive - and bad. I'm ok with his approach - for now. Let's at least get into the off-season before jumping ship.

Anonymous said...

Ed can be a dick sometimes and I get tired of the negitivity but I've been following the blog for a long time now and Ed saw this mess coming way before anyone else did. just sayin'.

Mike said...

I didn't see anything that should be sickening from the Pohald interview.

And I question people's notion that Punto would have only turned this Twins team from a 61 win team to a 63 win team. I guess it depends on his health. But the guy is undeniably a great defensive player, which was a huge problem for our middle infield- both of which are defensively premium positions. The whole pitching staff, with little exception, is an extreme pitch-to-contact staff. Watching Tolbert, Nishi, and Plouffe, and others consistently mess up in the field makes me think that Punto would have added more than one or two wins. And his hitting has already been discussed. If people would rather have Tolbert, I guess they're free to think Tolbert is a better option.

I'm a little surprised that people are so intent on ripping on Punto. Although I get that some people were just upset over how much he got paid (which wouldn't be relevant moving forward anyway), I don't see how bringing him in as a cheap backup utility infielder isn't a very good idea.

USAFChief said...

I don't see how bringing him in as a cheap backup utility infielder isn't a very good idea.

IF he comes back as a 'cheap, backup utility infielder' there's nothing wrong...unless:

- his salary prevents an actual useful upgrade somewhere else,

- or unless one comes to the reasonable conclusion that at age 34 next year, Punto's best seasons are behind him and he's no longer likely to be an upgrade to current options, or

- one looks at Punto's injury history and comes to the reasonable conclusion that if he's asked to play much, he's likely to hurt himself

Let's hope the Twins concentrate on getting a quality STARTING SS before they worry about get his backup.

Anonymous said...

Fine this is an opinion site. My opinion Ed stop being a fan of the Twins. I did say please my last comment. At what point in the Star Tribune article did Pohlad say the Twins don't need to change ANYTHING? Let me know.
Yeah, I'm a fan of the White Sox Ed. I hate the now Ex Manager I hate the Front Office and I hate all the expensive unproductive hitters. I hate the fans and the culture of the White Sox. I boo the Sox when they are around and moan about not being able to win a division title and only one World Series. I basically HATE the White Sox way. But that's the thing about Sports I can be a total non-fan of the White Sox but say I am. That's my method of being a fan. Sarcasm dripping...

Matt said...

Every team needs a Punto of some sort; a guy who can step in and provide competant defense and get on base, but at most 1-2 times a week to give guys breathers and step in for short term injuries.
He can't be counted on to start and play every day, but he's a decent guy to have around.
Paying huge for Jose Reyes? I guess I haven't seen enough of him playing recently to weigh in, but they should make a bit of a splash in free agency, if nothing else to brighten up the spirits of the fan base...

Mike said...

@USA- his salary isn't going to preclude the Twins from getting a decent starting caliber SS. We're talking about under $1 million per year, which is offset by not re-signing Tolbert. So it's a complete non-issue.

You could reasonably conclude that his best seasons are behind him. But you know what- his worst seasons are better than the current options. So again, pretty much a non-issue. It really isn't reasonable to conclude that Punto is a worse option than the current mess of backups.

His injury history is the only thing that I would say would be a potential red flag. At the same time, the current backups aren't exactly injury-free, either.

So really, I think you're just one of the many fans who hate Punto because you can't stand that he was awful in 2007 and has a BA at about .240 with limited power.

TT said...

Is Punto even available? The Twins have several guys who fit as utility infielders, Nishioka, Plouffe, Tolbert, Hughes and Dinkelman. Not to mention Casilla if he isn't a regular. Punto may be a better option than any of them, but its not $1 million worth of difference.

The other issue is that the Twins need have one eye on the future. If they stay healthy they could be contenders next year. But they shouldn't be creating additional roadblocks to the development of young players. Punto is looking back, not forward.