Ask a fish about water sometime. They can talk endlessly about the stuff and they’re smarter than you think. Temperature, viscosity, transparency – they’re experts on it all, including traits that would never occur to us. But there’s one pretty basic characteristic of water that they never understand, no matter how much you explain it. (And don’t think I haven’t tried.)
The don’t understand “wet”.
The lesson, as always, is that I spend way too much time thinking about random things. And it’s a sickness. And I’m crying out for help. But the other lesson is that even when you dedicate your life to studying something, that very act can leave you blind to something pretty basic.
Ron Gardenhire dedicated his early life to being a shortstop, and one wonders if that hasn’t blinded him in some ways. Gardenhire’s major league career was over by the time he was 27 years old, so he likely spent some time thinking about how some teams could really use another true backup shortstop, like he was. And a lot of the time, he was probably right.
But that need isn’t as clear right now for the Twins. They came into camp with at least one backup shortstop in Nick Punto, who has played shortstop throughout his major league career. Luis Rodriguez did too, playing regularly at shortstop until he arrived in Rochester. But Gardenhire has declared that Punto won’t serve as a backup, and Rodriguez can’t handle shortstop, so the question being asked is who the backup shortstop is going to be.
The more interesting question is why there aren’t any real candidates in camp. That’s not the kind of thing that is difficult to pick up during the offseason. Was the front office not aware of Gardenhire’s views?
The Twins did choose Alejandro Machado in the rule V draft, but no competitive team hands a Rule V draftee a job before spring training. That would seem to be especially true for a team managed by Gardenhire who attaches the prefix “veteran” to “backup shortstop” as if they’re one long word.
The problem with giving veteran middle infielders to Gardenhire is his track record for doing such silly things with them. Last year’s infatuation with Juan Castro didn’t end until Castro was traded away. Actually, judging from statements early this spring, it still hasn’t. While playing the Reds, Gardenhire openly pined for Castro again, talking about how the Reds gave Castro a two-year deal.
Which raises the question whether the front office didn’t provide Gardenhire with a veteran option on purpose. Which further raises the question whether Gardenhire wants a veteran backup shortstop because he refuses to move Punto, or whether he refuses to move Punto because he wants another veteran backup shortstop?
At this point, does it matter? If there’s one thing we know about Gardenhire, it’s that he isn’t afraid to be stubborn about this sort of thing. If you weren’t convinced by Bartlett’s demotion last year, perhaps the words “Corky Miller” will ring a bell? The Twins waived Michael Restovich so Gardy could keep a fourth catcher on the roster.
So what options does the front office have? Machado is supposedly going to be playing soon, but the smart money is that he won’t be the manager’s first choice. Gardenhire is already talking up Alexi Casilla, which puts Terry Ryan in the position of planting the 22-year-old on the Twins bench while the prospect’s service clock ticks and skills atrophy.
Hmmm. Or I suppose Ryan could trade for a veteran backup shortstop….
See? I told you fish were smarter than you think.
On Monday, the Twins pounded Dontrelle Willis for six runs in a couple of innings. Also on Monday, the Cubs announced that Mark Prior would pitch in “B” squad games until he regains his confidence.
Two young pitchers who had instantaneous success in the majors. Two young pitchers who had boundless ceilings. And two young pitchers who never really regained the promise they showed so early and so young.
And neither of them had to undergo Tommy John surgery.
I think forward to 2008, and I think of a rotation of Johan Santana, Franciso Liriano, Matt Garza and Boof Bonser with another young gun like Glen Perkins or Kevin Slowey holding down the fifth spot. And involuntarily, I get giddy. And then I see a day like Monday, and I wonder if Liriano will ever be the same.
Deep down, I know the answer is no. That half season’s performance was so good that the reigning Cy Young winner look like an underachiever. To expect anything close is silly at best, damaging at worst.
But let’s hope Liriano fares better than a couple of the other young phenoms who burned so bright so early.