Sunday, March 19, 2006

Manager-Speak

That second base hit [Jason Kubel] got with a man on third, I said right away, ‘This young man is going to really, really make it interesting as we go along in spring.’ He's swinging pretty good, and he's moving good in the outfield. And let me tell you, if he's the best player out there, that's who will be playing out there."

- Ron Gardenhire

It isn't that the words the come out of a baseball manager's mouth aren’t the truth; they're just a different language. Let's call it manager-speak. That's because it isn’t the job of a manager to tell the truth. His job is to get the most out of his employees, which sometimes means protecting them from the truth, and sometimes that means motivating them with a lie, or at least a liberal interpretation of reality. Thus, manager-speak.

In this case, the reality is that unless someone gets hurt, there just isn’t room for Jason Kubel on the Twins 25 man roster. If Kubel were to win the right field job, Michael Cuddyer would need to occupy one of the five bench spots, so one of these guys is going to have to be cut: Juan Castro, Nick Punto (backup middle infielders), Lew Ford (4th outfielder), Mike Redmond (backup catcher) or Ruben Sierra (left-handed pinch hitter). Neither Gardenhire nor the Twins are going to give up any of them, and they certainly aren’t going to just cut Cuddyer.

The only semi-realistic option is that the Twins somehow sour on Jason Bartlett. That would allow Castro or Punto to start the season at shortstop, and open up a bench spot for Cuddyer. There haven’t been any rumors that this is the case, though in Saturday’s game, the Twins trotted out their expected lineup in the first through eighth spot, and it was Punto who batted ninth. That may provide the real message behind this quote, but that’s little comfort to Twins fans, since playing Punto or Castro regularly would likely negate any offensive gains that Kubel might provide.

Things don’t necessarily get better for Kubel once the season starts, either. There aren’t a lot of injuries that could happen during the season that would provide Kubel with an opportunity. An injury to Torii Hunter or Shannon Stewart just gives more playing time to Lew Ford. Justin Morneau is the only infielder whose injury would provide him playing time. Which means that Kubel’s chances for an impact this year are limited an injury to Morneau, Cuddyer or designated hitter Rondell White.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The Twins have gone out of their way to reduce their options by limiting Cuddyer from getting any work in the infield, where he could replace Tony Batista or Luis Castillo. They’ve claimed they’re trying to build up Cuddyer’s confidence at the plate, but all they’ve done is make it more likely that we see Kubel passed over for Luis Rodriguez or Terry Tiffee in a May call-up.

Getting some infield time for Cuddyer might allow a struggling offense to occasionally insert a 24-year-old who has hit .300 so far in his young career. It would also provide them a contingency plan for a second and third baseman who combined to play in 122 MLB games last year. But mostly it would provide some real evidence that Gardenhire is serious about keeping Kubel on the roster. Until that time, Gardy’s plain talk can be regarded as just so much more manager-speak.

6 comments:

Nick N. said...

I don't see the Twins giving up on Bartlett. He has great minor league numbers, they'd be foolish to give up on him after one incomplete rookie season in the Majors. He showed some good work with the glove last year. Plus he's hitting like .400 in spring training.

I don't understand why everyone is so sure that Ruben Sierra has a spot on the bench cemented. A guy whose sole duty is pinch-hitting against righties is a nice luxury, but would the Twins let it get in the way of their future right-fielder getting into the daily lineup if he's better than the alternatives? I'm not so sure. Not helping Sierra's case is the fact that he strained a quad today and is expected to be out for a couple weeks.

iowa twin said...

When Sierra goes to the DL then I think Tiffee goes north because he can also spell Batista and the plan has been for Kubel to start in the minors. However, I believe Stewart will be traded this season and then Kubel will be recalled!

Badger Backer said...

Kubel is almost certainly going to start the year in AAA. However, I could definitely see Cuddyer going back to third if Kubel is tearing it up at AAA and Batista is sucking. Then they can say they built up Cuddyer's confidence and it's time to give the young guy a chance.

NY-Brian said...

Geek - you seem to be a bit down on Castillo, which surprises me.... I get the anti-Batistaism (I'm very much a proponent of anti-Batistaism. Almost a pundit, in fact.) but when you have a chance, could you clarify your position on Castillo?

PIngrassia said...

I am also afraid of the Batista experiment.

If we thought Jacque Jones wiffed a lot, wait til we get a load of this load. I had to watch his last half-season in Baltimore and it was not pretty.

EvilTwin said...

Why don't we just make Lew Ford take infield reps? Why don't we just make Jason Kubel take 3B reps? It makes an equal amount of sense to have Cuddyer taking reps there. None of these guys are outfielders.

Michael Cuddyer is an outfielder. He can do a decent job turning a DP at 2B, but he is not and will never be a good infielder. The numbers are pretty telling, he hit .255 in the infield last year and .318 in the outfield.

Let it go, we're having Tony Batista put on his Joe Crede suit this year by striking out a lot and hitting 25 HRs from the 7 or 8 hole.

As far as Kubel goes, what's so bad about having a guy who missed the last season get regular action in AAA instead having him be platooned while the team finds its footing and its strengths and weaknesses? Let's let his find his stroke on a consistent level and trade Shannon Stewart in June.