Saturday, April 01, 2006

Leadership

It’s been a puzzle. Jason Bartlett received the lion’s share of games at shortstop at the end of last year. Terry Ryan said he wasn’t targeting shortstops during the offseason, because the Twins had Bartlett. And starting spring training, it was clear that the shortstop job was Bartlett’s to lose.

That changed several weeks ago. About the time that Juan Castro returned (injured) from the World Baseball Classic, manager Ron Gardenhire started dwelling on Bartlett’s miscues. And talking up Castro’s experience. Last week, just as Bartlett seemed to have the job won, a hamstring injury opened the door for more playing time for Castro. Yesterday, Jason Bartlett was assigned to Rochester, and Juan Castro was named the starting shortstop for Opening Day.

Does this decision significantly hurt the Twins? Probably not. Castro’s .230 career average and 610 career OPS* will likely cause Twins fans to plea for divine intervention, but Bartlett’s career average of .233 with a 630 OPS is hardly messianic. And while Bartlett has the intoxicating new prospect smell about him, don’t forget to check that odometer. He’s 26 years old, just a few months younger than Michael Cuddyer, who is hardly thought of as “young”.

It’s also encouraging that Twins management didn’t rely on the same excuse they’ve used in the past to keep Bartlett on the farm: his defense. We saw Bartlett’s defense at the end of last year, and while he might not be as fluid as Castro, his glove reaches an extra 8-10 feet across that artificial grass, especially up the middle. This spring, he only made two errors, while Castro made one error in five games.

Instead, there’s a new reason – Bartlett’s “leadership”. From the Star-Tribune:

“He’s a quiet kid,” Gardenhire said, “But in the middle you have to be vocal. You have to lead, and that’s what I told him you need to do. ‘You go down there and take control of the infield. You be the leader. Once you start getting that part of the game down, you’ll be more confident all the way around.’”

Gardenhire wants his shortstop to learn to be a leader. He wants the 26-year-old rookie, who has less than a year of major league experience, to learn to lead the nine-year veteran and two-time all-star that is playing on his right. And the new 10-year veteran and three-time all-star that is playing on his left. And Gardenhire wants him to learn how to do that in AAA. One might wonder exactly how long that will take.

One might also wonder whose leadership example the kid is supposed to emulate. Gardenhire just handed a job to a guy who performed poorly last season, batted .214 this spring, and missed about 80% of camp. He just demoted a guy who batted .382 (with an on-base percentage of .500!) and committed just two errors this spring and hastily worked his way back from injury. And he justified it with the most nebulous of reasons.

Add all that to the fact that Gardenhire specifically asked Terry Ryan to acquire Juan Castro a year-and-a-half ago, and it isn’t going to take a lot of imagination for the clubhouse to wonder if Gardenhire isn’t playing favorites. Given the rifts we saw last year between the veterans and younger players on this club, that’s hardly a message this team needs as a new season begins.

But it’s better than some of the other messages that this move whispers, such as “I don’t trust you guys”. Or “Performance doesn’t really matter.” If this is what qualifies as leadership on this team, Gardenhire might have done us all a favor by sending Bartlett someplace else – anyplace else - to develop those skills.

8 comments:

Brian said...

I find it particularly telling that the article cites Hrbek's leadership in the 80s and 90s.

But then Gardy seems to insist that the SS is responsible for leading the infield. He even cites GUZMAN (aka the laziest player I have seen with the possible exception of Rivas) as an infield leader. Heh. You gonna tell me Guzman was the leader over Mienkiewicz and Koskie? Nuh UH!

Who is leading the current infield? Castro? Doubt it. Probably Castillo, though Morneau has the most time with the team. If it's Batista, we might as well all give up.

Gardy is full of shit. And with auto-outs Batista and Castro in the everyday lineup, I'm finding myself wondering if the team I love even DESERVES to win.

I've said it before and I'll say it again.

Fire Gardy. Bring back Al Newman to manage the team.

Seriously.

Since it's required. Okay. said...

It's too bad Gardie doesn't realize what Bartlett needs is poise not leadership. Bartlett will figure it out.

beach64 said...

Gardenhire could always come out and say he doesnt like him. Instead we get answers that skirt all around the actual answer. Last I saw Mauer was quiet but he in my opinion is definitely a leader by example. How many leaders does a 9 man team actually need? Maybe a less leading and a little more playing.

dlarso01 said...

Uh, maybe a MANAGER with a little bit of leadership skills would be nice?

btw, seriously, is Stew leading off? What's up with that?

twinsfanca said...

Count me as one who doesnt find this move that bothersome. SS is a position where the issues Gardy has brought up are critical (not alerting the pitcher when a runner is going, heading to 2nd base when he should be out as a cutoff man etc...)

As gardy mentioned, Guzman was quiet, but he knew how and when to speak up. You just can not play a passive SS in the major leagues.

I think the statements that Gardy has something personal against Bartlett are just crazy.

If you want to fire gardy you might as well fire TR as well, he is just as responsible for this "situation" as anyone

RedRaven said...

Aaahhh....Mr. Gardenhire: Twin's skipper on trial for letting us down. Kelly left him a team that was just ready to shine. His personality (especially his humor) was such a pleasant change and we started winning. Mr. Ryan makes the deal of the century w/ A.J. What could be better?!
The clubhouse falls apart when Ortiz leaves and no one takes over. The gang gets split up and Gardenhire seems to have no clue how to lead this team in to any kind of unity.
I sure wish we'd start hearing the players say they really like playing for Gardy. His true colors should be easy to spot this year. He does seem to be on trial.

AdamOnFirst said...

It's official:

1. The left side our infield is a complete nd unqualified disaster. if our left side gets even bordeline significant playing time the way it is, we WILL NOT make the playoffs.

2. Terry Ryan, for all his skills, strongly lacks in his ability to convert a strong farm system and shrewd moves into the strongest possible major league roster.

3. Ron Gardenhire is one of the select few worst managers in baseball.

caluofmn said...

Seems to me that if Gardy thinks that the team is not going to really score that many more runs than last year then he can't afford to have Barlett at SS.

This is assuming that Castro's defense is that much better than Bartlett's so it doesn't matter that you lose his bat in the lineup.

I think in short order the Twins will realize that they can't afford to keep Castro and Batista in the line up together.

Personally I'd rather see Bartlett and Tiffee up with the team. Castro can stay on the bench and I guess L-Rod would have to go elsewhere.

But I think the top of the order will be improved enough that the Twins will still win many of those 1 run games that they lost last year.