Sunday, November 13, 2011

Good Piece, High Price

Middle infielder Jamey Carroll, who the Twins are reportedly very close to signing, is a good fit for the Twins in several ways:

  1. He brings consistent, if average, defense to a team whose infield play was anything but consistent.
  2. He’s been an on-base machine his whole career (.355 career OBP), perfect for a manager that loves the idea of having a middle infielder bat #2 in the lineup.
  3. His right-handed bat plays nicely amidst a Twins lineup that mostly leans left.
  4. He’s been relatively healthy the past few years.

That all sounds great to Twins fans, who had their expectations readjusted last year by eyeball-searing shortstop performances. Which is interesting because they had a guy like that on the roster the year before, who Twins fans sure loved to hate. That player was Nick Punto.

Carroll and Punto aren’t identical. Punto is a better defender, a switch hitter and is three years younger. Carroll has been healthier and has about 25 points of batting average (.278 career) over Punto (.249). But their similarities go beyond their infield flexibility and height (both are listed at 5’ 9”). Both have basically been viewed as very good utility players who have occasionally found themselves in the role of starter, but never for very long.

Because the Twins haven’t officially finished this transaction, it’s hard to say that Carroll will definitely be a starting middle infielder, but he’s sure being paid like it. He’s reportedly going to be making $7M over two years with an option on the 3rd year – which isn’t dissimilar to the 2-year, $8M contract with an optional 3rd year that the Twins gave Nick Punto back in 2008.

What is dissimilar is the age at which those players were given those deals. Punto had just turned 31. On Opening Day this year, Carroll is going to be 38. If Carroll performs both offensively and defensively over the next two years like he did the last two years, it is totally worth it. But for a 37-year-old, that’s far from certain. In fact, it’s probably unlikely.

(And let’s not forget that signing veteran players wasn’t a real strength during Terry Ryan’s first tenure as a general manager. This move feels awfully similar to nabbing Jeff Cirillo and Rondell White. Both were players who looked like great fits, too – right up until their skills tumbled off a cliff. I’m trying to think of counterexamples and having trouble coming up with one. Luis Castillo, I suppose, but he was 30 and came in a trade.)

Make no mistake about it: the Twins overpaid here. It sounds like there was quite a bit of interest in Carroll, so if they really wanted him, they probably needed to. The question is: why him?

It may be that Twins scouts watched Carroll and decided he was worth the considerable risk his age represents. Or it could be that this indicates that Ryan is more concerned about adding offense than defense; there were better defensive middle infielders on the market that would have been cheaper. It also might mean that Ryan wants the flexibility of having another guy who can play third base on the roster, for whatever the reason.

Usually, I’m a big picture guy, and the big picture here is a good one: Carroll is a really good fit for the Twins. If getting that puzzle piece means an extra million dollars and a second guaranteed year, that’s not such a crazy price to pay. And addressing a need like this early in the offseason can set up a team to for even bigger moves this winter.

So it’s a good move - right up until his 38-year-old body gets hurt or Mike Lambs us. At which point this looks as crazy as throwing $8 million at Punto. And then we get the pitchforks out.

Welcome back to the big chair, Terry.


frightwig said...

Jeff Cirillo, Rondell White... Bret Boone... Ruben Sierra... Phil Nevin... Tony Batista... Sidney Ponson... Ramon Ortiz.... Yeah, we've seen Terry Ryan make that sort of move a number of times in his last few years as GM. And remember that Bill Smith's first official move was getting Craig Monroe, probably on Ryan's advice, too.

Carroll looks like he easily could be another one of those veterans with some recent success who suddenly looks washed up as soon as he puts on the Twins uniform (oh, Adam Everett, let's not forget you!). At best, he'll be another one of Gardy's pet scrubinis, possibly contributing ~1.5 WAR; and if things work out that well, that'll be OK. But I have a feeling that a lot of Twins fans next summer will be wondering, "How did anyone think it was a good idea to give the starting SS job to a 38 year-old career utility man?"

JB_Iowa said...

The best thing we can hope for is that Carroll's salary comes out of the $10 million above 100 that Ryan didn't think he needed.

Anonymous said...

Mike Redmond and Kenny Rogers were solid pickups.

One thing that might get overlooked over the years is how young the Twins have traditionally been under Ryan. We complain about Ramon Ortiz (10 starts) and Sindey Ponson (7) but the Twins have usually relied more on young players than they get credit for.

Right now they are signing Carroll b/c they don't have anything in house that can play the middle infield and Carroll is an underrated on base guy who is durable. It's a good fit. It's possible he falls apart but that's the (small) risk the Twins are taking. Whoever signs Reyes or Rollins will be taking a bigger risk.

Anonymous said...

Small risk? LOL