Carroll part of bleak Minnesota winter

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
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The Minnesota Twins’ rumored agreement with Jamey Carroll for two years and $7 million is another one of those nice developments (if you’re Jamey Carroll), while simultaneously proving to be yet another cause for frustration for Twins fans still wondering how they got here.

[+] EnlargeJamey Carroll
Drew Hallowell/Getty ImagesJamey Carroll might not be as effective a defensive shortstop as the Twins pitching staff needs.
Keep in mind, the Twins haven’t let the position become a scar over the years. After Cristian Guzman left as a free agent, they replaced him with Jason Bartlett, who they’d stolen from the Padres in a minor deal for Brian Buchanan years before. Even before Bartlett got expensive, they bundled him with Matt Garza to get Delmon Young from the Rays. The Twins didn’t effectively replace Bartlett for two years (mucking around with Nick Punto, Orlando Cabrera, Brendan Harris, Adam Everett and more), but finally dealt Carlos Gomez -- one of the keys to the Johan Santana trade -- to get J.J. Hardy. Yet a year later, with Hardy still a year removed from free agency, he was deemed too expensive, and Minnesota dealt him to the Orioles.

In all of these trades -- dealing away Garza plus Bartlett, Gomez, Hardy and Young -- the Twins have ended up on the short end, at least on every scoreboard that doesn’t have a dollar sign on it. Worse yet, they lost talent that other teams have either dealt to better effect or happily retained. And all of those trades belonged to then-general manager Bill Smith. So did signing Tsuyoshi Nishioka and finding he was another Japanese import who couldn’t handle shortstop in the major leagues. And the decision to move Alexi Casilla to short last year, despite a spotty track record there in the minors, without ever spending an entire season at the position? Another Smith move, for which you can blame penury, optimism or madness, whatever your inclination might be.

The question is whether this inaugural move for Terry Ryan’s second (non-consecutive) term running the show in Minny is really that much better, or if it isn’t just the latest patch slapped on a self-inflicted wound. There’s no reason to believe that Carroll can play short adequately on an everyday basis. His Total Zone Fielding Runs or Defensive Runs Saved marks this year were dreadful; they were dreadful in 2005. And this is the man joining a Twins team that needs good fielding behind its pitchers, who routinely rank low in the majors in strikeout rate, touching bottom with last season’s 30th-place finish.

Even if Carroll’s track record as a shortstop wasn’t poor, that’s without getting into the number of shortstops playing the position effectively into their late 30s. Carroll will be 38 by next season, and only 25 teams have ever played a shortstop that old or older; of them, only one, the 1984 Cubs with Larry Bowa, ever made the postseason. The Yankees will be giving it a shot next year with Derek Jeter. Suffice to say Jamey Carroll ain’t the Captain, whatever your position on Jeter’s defensive performance.

It’s possible that Carroll winds up at second instead of short, and that the Twins continue to employ Nishioka and Casilla and Trevor Plouffe at shortstop. However, a four-headed middle-infield monster where nobody can play shortstop effectively simply sounds more monstrous. Add in Danny Valencia’s brand of relative immobility at third, and it sounds like a tough season to come for the Twins’ especially defense-dependent pitching -- unless Carroll replaces Valencia, and the Twins find a shortstop.

Which leaves Minnesota with ... what? Beyond the unfortunate legacy and throwing money at the middle-infield problem, the Twins do get something for their troubles. The good news is that Carroll’s perhaps Punto-plus at the plate -- his lowest OBP mark in the past four seasons was .355. And given that he’s a negligible extra-base threat, Target Field’s slugging-suppressing powers won’t matter to him. Placed in one of the two top slots in Minnesota's order, he ought to be an offensive asset, creating plenty of run-scoring opportunities for Joe Mauer and … well, other people, because on the long list of problems that Ryan is going to have to fix this winter, staffing next year’s lineup has to rank right at the top. Carroll’s a useful part, and one who can be moved around, but if he’s locked in at short, the Twins have locked in on a non-solution to their problems there.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

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