Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Tony Batista

Amongst the many interesting things discussed and/or mentioned in today's Patrick Reusse article in the Star Tribune is the fate of Tony Batista, who Reusse suggests is on his way out.

Batista is hitting .237, with 5 HR and 21 RBI. On the plus side, he has just 24 strikeouts this season, and has walked 15 times. Since the Twins expected Batista to be a high risk, high reward player (hitting a lot of homeruns but striking out regularly), I would say that he's outperforming the expectations on that side of things. As for his batting everything, he's underperforming to a degree, I guess, since his career batting average is .250, but he wasn't brought in to hit for average, and .237 isn't too terrible much less than .250. In fact, over the course of 400 at-bats, the difference between .237 and .251 is a little more than 5 hits; five hits over the course of the season isn't enough to complain about too fiercely.

Instead, it is Batista's defense that has presented itself as more of a problem. He seems to have very limited range, and has become something of a liability at the position. When he does get to the ball, though, he has a good enough and accurate enough arm to make the throw and get the batter out.

So, there are a couple of questions that need to be addressed here. First, are the Twins likely to decide that the Tony Batista experiment is over any time soon? Second, if the Twins do decide to part ways with Batista, who will play third? Finally, should the Twins sign players like Batista in the future?

Reusse seems to think that Batista's days as a Twin are numbered; more numbered even than the days of Rondell White. A lot of this is probably due to salary. Batista is making $1.25 million this season, while White is making $2.5 million this year with a vesting option if he reaches 400 plate appearances (which he won't). Since there is probably not a lot of demand for either player in a trade, the Twins would either have to take salary back in a trade (one liability for another; not the kind of deal that would help the Twins), or suck it up and cut them loose. Since Batista is cheaper to get rid of, he is probably the first to go. I'm not convinced, however, that the Twins will make that decision anytime soon, and the reason is largely to do with the answer to the second question.

The Twins don't have a logical person to play at third right now if they get rid of Batista, at least not someone who they are willing to hand the position to. The major reason that Batista was signed was that the Twins didn't have the organizational depth at the position to put somebody there this year that they were comfortable with. Reusse suggests that Terry Tiffee isn't the solution long-term, because his defense isn't much better than Batista's. As much as I liked Tiffee two years ago when he came up, he just hasn't established that he can hack it as a major league player.

Reusse also suggests that the solution may be in moving Jason Bartlett to third base and giving him the chance to take over. I don't like this solution any more than the Tiffee solution. Bartlett is not a good defensive shortstop; it's always been known that that was his liability. Reusse believes that he'll play a little better at third, and even if he doesn't, his better offensive abilities will make up for his defensive shortcomings. The problem is, Bartlett doesn't have the experience at the position to even measure up to Batista at third. I may be wrong, and Bartlett possibly would be able to adjust quickly to the position, but why make that change now? Out of desperation? Juan Castro has been great on defense this year, but hasn't been much on offense. Nick Punto has played well this year, but seems better suited to a Denny Hocking like role of utility guy/late inning pinch runner than as a starting SS. So in my opinion, if Bartlett continues to play well at short, he would have the opportunity to win the job as the club's shortstop early next year.

There are other options in the system. Juan Castro could slide over to third, and Bartlett could become the new shortstop. That's an option I could live with, because Castro is a reasonably effective third baseman. Matt Moses (another solid offensive player with sub-par defensive abilities) could come up early and take over the position, but is more likely to be held back until the spring and given a chance to win the job then. Luis Rodriguez could...ok, no he couldn't. He's not a starting caliber player yet.

I think, then, that it makes more sense to keep plugging away with Batista. He provides a little pop, and isn't enough of a liability in the field, in my opinion, to justify cutting him. Perhaps I'm wrong. One thing that should NOT stop Terry Ryan from making a move to cut Batista is his salary; that $1.25 million is a sunk cost that cannot be recovered. The important thing is whether Batista is helping the team win, not how much he is being paid.

Finally, should the Twins sign players like Batista? The short answer is maybe. The Twins knew they didn't have the institutional depth to put somebody at third this year, and Batista was at the top of the cost v. effectiveness curve they were operating with. I can cut Terry Ryan some slack on this, because he's been so effective as the General Manager over the course of his career. A better solution, however, is to make the kinds of moves a year or two in advance to make sure something like this doesn't happen. In defense of the Twins, they tried; that's what the Michael Cuddyer experiment was all about. That didn't work out, and there's nothing to be done for it. The Batista and White signings look horrible in hindsight, but you know the saying about hindsight. Batista's signing wasn't so egregious as be horrible...just try not to do it again, Terry.


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