I saw the headline in the Strib and smirked. I read the story and smiled. It was going to fuel more Twins Territory energy than the lethal concoction of dollar dogs and Chuck Knoblauch. This was going to be fun.
La Velle E Neal reported yesterday that Ron Gardenhire was leaning toward starting Nick Punto at second base next year over prospect Alexi Casilla. Punto, of course, has posted a batting average significantly lower than, well, than most writers/bloggers weight, present company included. I wonder if Neal giggled as he wrote it in anticipation of the public reaction. Honestly, how could he not have?
The reaction was as conservative and placid as most internet-based stories. I counted three blog entries by noon, and several other blogs where the comments section was overrunning with reader reaction. The prevailing sentiment was that this was symptomatic of larger issue with the Twins and that Ron Gardenhire was an idiot.
Taken altogether, it wasn’t unlike an uprising. And the more I thought about it, the more the message was distilled into three short words that are a staple of angry mobs.
“Kill the messenger!”
Face it Twins Territory, Gardy is simply telling us an unpleasant truth that we already know: Alexi Casilla has done almost nothing to indicate that he is anywhere near ready to play at the major league level. Hell, I’ll take it a step further. Alexi Casilla has done almost nothing this year in terms of growth other than age a year. And any objective observer who hasn’t bought into the spring training hype and trade deadline excusathon would conclude the same thing:
- This year he hit .269 in Rochester.
- His plate discipline declined from last year.
- His major league OBP is .278.
- He’s been prone to boneheaded mistakes in the field and on the base paths.
- Versus left-handed pitching he has been positively abysmal (454 OPS)
Put yourself in Gardenhire’s shoes. Compare that player to a guy who had .300 average last year when he discovered plate discipline, has an excellent glove and is guaranteed $2.4 million whether he plays or not. Which one would you lean towards starting there next year?
Even the decision to play Punto at second or third base in front of Brian Buscher and Alexi Casilla at this point in the season makes some sense. Again, whether we want to admit it or not, the Twins already "know what they have" with all these guys. So do we.
- Casilla is a speedy slap hitter who hasn't shown, either at AAA or MLB, that he's ready for the majors.
- Buscher is a late prospect, ala Lew Ford, whose upside is probably Ron Coomer, both offensively and defensively.
- Punto is a starting middle infielder if he's hitting well and showing plate discipline, which he did last year. He’s a utility infielder if he isn't, which he did every other year.
Of the three, the one I feel least sure projecting next year is Punto, then Buscher, then Casilla. So why are we so worked up that Casilla is riding the pine?
Don’t get me wrong – this is really depressing news. It's most depressing because it is undoubtedly true. There isn't much help in the free agent market for second basemen, and there is no way that Casilla takes that job away from Punto in spring training if Gardy has it in his mind that it's Punto's.
But Gardenhire isn’t to blame that Alexi Casilla got a year older without getting a year better. That rests solely on Casilla’s shoulders. Or maybe we should blame Terry Ryan for using Casilla’s development as an excuse for the Luis Castillo trade. Or maybe we should look in the mirror for buying into the party line and wishcasting a player to be something he’s not. (Yet.) It seems thereare plenty of other accurate targets for our anger.
Let’s leave the messenger alone.