Taylor's Twins Talk

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

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Backup Middle Infielder

It's generally accepted that the Twins very much want to carry a backup middle infielder on the 25-Man roster this year. Last year, Luis Rodriguez filled a hybrid role as a backup 2B/3B, which is about half of what you want from a backup middle infielder and half of what you want from a backup corner infielder. The Twins were able to carry extra outfielders and pitchers (it varied throughout the year) because they basically weren't carrying the full complement of infielders. One of the results was that Jason Bartlett never got a day off, and that's something the Twins would like to avoid this year.

With that in mind, I'm putting together this post to specifically look at this roster spot (which I've arbitrarily labeled as "Roster Spot 23" in my weekly roster updates) and the possibilities the Twins have to fill it.

Option #1: Alejandro Machado - 33% Chance
If I were a betting man, I'd still put my money on Alejandro Machado to win this job (despite what I said in the most recent roster update). Machado was a Rule 5 pick taken from the Washington Nationals organization (although he's never actually played in the Nats system - he was signed as a minor league free agent by Washington shortly before the Rule 5 Draft), and the Twins will end up sending him back to Washington if he doesn't stay on the 25-Man roster all season. He generally fits the profile of what the Twins are looking for - he's solid defensively, he has some speed, he can play both 2B and SS, and in a pinch could be used at 3B or in the outfield - but there is one particularly nagging problem: he can't get healthy. Machado has a bum shoulder that is preventing him from getting into any ballgames, and every day he takes to rehab is a day less that the Twins have to see him in action. Machado also has a glaring deficiency in his bunting skills, but I think the Twins could work with him on that. Ultimately, if healthy, he's the best choice to win this job, and has the best chance of doing so.

Option #2: Luis Rodriguez - 20% Chance
Twenty percent is probably a little high at this point. Rodriguez could end up winning the job by default, if the Twins just don't think there's anyone else around deserving of getting the spot. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, Rodriguez isn't a shortstop. Keeping him on the roster as a backup 2B/3B doesn't make a lot of sense, simply because Jeff Cirillo can play both of those positions, and also because it would still mean a solution would have to be found for who will play SS when Jason Bartlett sits out. As a result, giving Rodriguez a spot on the roster would have to be coupled with one of the other options on this list in order to actually solve the "backup middle infielder" problem. So why consider Rodriguez at all? Two major reasons: he has Major League experience, which the Twins may value; and there aren't a lot of other options if the Twins want to carry an extra person on the roster who fills this role. One other glaring deficiency of Rodriguez: he's not that fast, so his utility as a pinch runner late in games is pretty minimal.

Option #3: Tommy Watkins - 17% Chance
Yesterday, I wouldn't even have considered this, but as I mentioned earlier today in the Game Eight post, I think Watkins has half-stumbled/half-played his way into the discussion. Watkins is not a good hitter, but he wouldn't be kept on the team to hit. Instead, he'd be a Wal-Mart version of Denny Hocking - same low average, slightly less ability to play all over the field. Watkins is faster than Rodriguez, can play SS when needed, and could play virtually anywhere else you asked him to on other nights. Also, he's not a top prospect in the system, so having him at the Major League level riding the pine wouldn't be a significant problem. The more I think about this option, the more I like it. Watkins has been making his case primarily with his strong defensive play this spring, but he also jacked a Homer today, which has to give this option a bit of a boost.

Option #4: Nick Punto - 13% Chance
The Twins seem hell-bent on not using Punto anywhere other than 3B this year, but they should (and very well may) re-examine that decision as the deadline to set the roster comes closer. Jason Bartlett proved last year that he doesn't need a lot of time off, so the Twins would only need someone to start for him at SS every 10-12 games or so. Is asking Nick Punto to shift over one spot in the infield 10-16 times a year really a big deal? Frankly, I don't think so. This option would allow Jeff Cirillo to get some built in playing time, and it would also free up a roster spot for another Outfielder or Pitcher. Considering the Lew Ford/J.D. Durbin/Mike Venafro/Matt LeCroy roster decision that will be coming up soon enough, this option may start to look more and more desirable for Twins brass.

Option #5: Alexi Casilla - 12% Chance
This option probably shouldn't have been given such a high chance of happening. Casilla has a huge amount of upside, but he's still young and needs seasoning at the AAA level. Very little good would come of keeping Casilla in the big leagues only to stash him on the bench for the majority of the games. Casilla belongs in AAA this year, and he belongs at 2B - the Twins should be concentrating on grooming him into Luis Castillo's replacement for 2008, not on keeping him at the big league level in 2007 as a little-used backup.

Option #6 - Jeff Cirillo - 5% Chance
The longest of long shots is for the Twins to follow the Option #4 plan of not carrying a sixth infielder (Jeff Cirillo being the 5th), but also sticking with the "Nick Punto plays only at 3B" plan as well. That would leave Cirillo as the only viable alternative at pretty much every infield position, unless the extra roster spot was used on somebody like Matt LeCroy, in which case Cirillo would still have a pretty full plate. Cirillo is capable of playing short - but that's sort of like saying that Joe Nathan could be a starter - he's done it in the past, and he'd be capable of doing it, but it makes very little sense for him to do it in the future. Cirillo is past the days when playing SS makes any sense at all. I would see this as a very poor baseball decision by the Twins - and maybe that's why I think it's so unlikely.

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