Minnesota Twins sign IF Nick Punto to a 2-year, $8.5 million contract.
Amazing the impact those two little letters before Nick Punto can have, isn’t it? “IF”.
Objectively, it should be “SS”. After all, Ron Gardenhire has already named Punto as the starting shortstop. Punto is coming back to the Twins because he’s going to be the starting shortstop. The Twins are paying him that kind of money and giving him a multi-year deal because he’s going to be the starting shortstop. And for the last year Punto has been the starting shortstop.
And yet, when I saw the transaction on the sports ticker, it said “IF”. It was likely a subconscious choice, but it’s an apt one, and one that reflects most of the controversy about this deal.
We don’t see Punto as a shortstop. To us, and apparently to sportsticker guy, he’s an infielder. A replaceable, fungible, utility infielder. And in that context, this is a stupid contract.
In the context of a shortstop, however, this is a very solid deal. Quit laughing – I mean it. Here are the shortstops available as free agents, and we’ll throw a couple of others in that have been actively shopped by their teams this offseason:
Nick Punto was better than Orlando Cabrera and Edgar Renteria last year. He was an above average shortstop, and he’s been an above average offensive shortstop for two of the last three years. And that’s his offense, which most observers would not consider his greatest gift.
Jack Wilson will make $7.5 million next year. Renteria signed for $17 million over two years. Julio Lugo will make $18 million though 2010. Cabrera will be in that ballpark, too. The Twins got Punto for $8M and got a team option for a 3rd year at $5 million too. Plus, he’s one of the younger guys on that list.
Surprised? Me too, and I’m chalking it up to spending too much time too close to the trees. While we weren’t looking, Punto graduated from IF to SS. Not that there aren’t still a few IFs that could (and should) turn Twins Geeks sour on the whole deal. For instance:
IF Punto has another year similar to 2007, it’s going to be a terrible deal. 2007 scarred us. To be fair, part of what made it so painful was that he was playing third base, a position from which a team needs more offense. And looking at Punto’s plate discipline over the last three years, 2007 looks more and more like a fluke. I understand the concern, but it may be time to move beyond that.
Plus, that was the year I had him on my roto team. I promise, I won’t do that to us all ever again.
IF Punto gets injured a lot, it could be a mediocre deal. Punto has been better at staying healthy these last few years, and with that option year tacked on, he has plenty of incentive to continue that trend. Fortunately, the Twins look like they have some capable backup infielders in the organization between Matt Tolbert, Trevor Plouffe and Alejandro Machado.
IF this is the last move the Twins make this offseason, it’s a terrible deal. This team still has $30 million dollars and a plethora of young, cheap talent to package in the right deal. Signing Punto effectively ends any talk of acquiring JJ Hardy (which was always a long shot) or Rafael Furcal (which makes me sad - I sure hope it was his back that scared them off). Unfortunately it probably also ends any talk of heavy hitters at second base like Dan Uggla.
But the market still has a number of impact players available as free agents or being shopped in trades. The Twins are well situated to accept payroll and swap quantity for quality. It might mean swinging a trade for an upgrade at third base. Or signing Pat Burrel and trading Delmon Young. Or even trading one of their young starting pitchers for an impact bat and then patching some holes.
It will likely take some creativity and some gumption to make those kind of moves, but that’s what separates the good from the great. IF this is followed up by a great move, then this Punto deal was a good move.