This offseason, blogs across the Twins cybernetwork have been littered with comments about the signing of Tony Batista. They, of course, have been mostly negative. This comes with good reason. Batista is a career .251 hitter with a .298 OBP. He hardly walks and strikeouts in bunches. Plus, he reportedly has limited, if any, range at third. What are his positives? Power and a good-throwing arm seem to be it.
However, I'm not sold on the idea that Terry Ryan just handed the guy $1.25 million for some homers and a decent arm. Ryan is smarter than that and he's a wise enough GM that he has looked at the angles. He wouldn't just depart from the Twins' philosophy of years and go after tons of power. Ryan's philosophy and the Twins' road to the playoffs in recent years have been built on defense, pitching, and team chemistry; things the Twins have done well, except for last year. With a clubhouse full of issues, from JC Romero to Kyle Lohse to the Torii Hunter-Justin Morneau incident, it was not the tight clubhouse of guys from that had led the team to three straight playoff apperances. This offseason, I believe Ryan wanted to change that as much as anything.
That explains trading Romero, despite the minimal return he got in Alexi Casilla. That explains choosing Rondell White over Mike Piazza or Frank Thomas. All of them have injury concerns, but he chose White - despite the fact that White ended up more expensive than either of the other two - because he's a classy guy who will keep his mouth shut and get what needs to be done for the team. He didn't complain about needing to get on the field (Piazza) or heckle his former team (Thomas). He gladly accepted DHing for the Twins and even went out of his way to thank his own team. That's a guy that has Twins player written all over him. It seems, maybe, Batista is in the same boat.
Based on the article from this Sunday's Star Tribune, I gather that had a lot to do with signing him. Batista appears to be a good citizen, who spends his off-time during the season visiting random needy churches throughout the country to donate money and time. After the 2004 season, Ryan was interested in Batista and Batista was ready to sign, but Ryan suggested he take the best offer from Japan and play. As former teammate Melvin Mora says, "This is a guy you want to have on your team ... All of the people are going to love him in Minnesota."
Granted, Batista was released from his team in Japan, but that was mainly because he was already getting overpaid as a foreign-player who was expected to do too much (2 years, $15.7 million - reeks of Brian Scalabrine in the NBA). He also has shown up at camp a little over the weight he needs to be at. And he probably won't repeat his 2000 season here either. But his character is something to consider. I don't imagine that Ryan just ignored the stats and blindly went after whatever power hitter he could get. That just doesn't make sense based on his history.
To me, Ryan wants to build a solid clubhouse foundation for the year and he may have found the right guys to do it. Of course, if Batista doesn't produce, I understand if he gets booted. That's the business. But it's something to consider in the wake of all the negativity surrounding this signing.