The Twins inked Punto to a two-year deal yesterday, just after Ron Gardenhire had told reporters, “If we sign Nick Punto, he would be my starting shortstop.” Guess that takes care of that.
Punto’s contract will pay him $4 million over each of the next two seasons, with a $5 million team option for 2011 that can be negated with a $500K buyout. The deal seems reasonable and shouldn’t hurt the Twins much financially.
There is a large segment of fans out there who remain disenchanted with Punto after his dismal 2007 campaign and are no doubt disgusted to hear that he’ll be around for at least two more years with the promise of a spot in next season’s Opening Day lineup. Realistically, though, Punto is a pretty reasonable option. The free agent crop for shortstops is quite weak, and the J.J. Hardy/Yunel Escobar trade rumors were never very realistic. When it gets to the point that Jack Wilson is being looked at as a viable target, you know the market is bare.
I expressed my concerns about the defensive makeup of the left side of the Twins’ infield on Wednesday, and now the team can take comfort in the fact that they’ll at least have a steady defender at shortstop. It’s difficult to predict what kind of offensive performance Punto will put forth, but I find it likely that he'll hit enough to avoid being a total liability at a middle-infield position.
This signing ostensibly allows the Twins to turn their attention to third base, although there really isn’t a whole lot out there at this point. Adrian Beltre reportedly now has the Twins on his no-trade list, providing another obstacle in what already was a pretty unlikely trade scenario. The rest of the names being bandied about -- such as Garrett Atkins and Kevin Kouzmanoff -- are not particularly inspiring. Mark DeRosa is intriguing, but I question whether the Cubs are really shopping him and, if they are, whether the Twins have the right pieces to bring him in. I would not be at all surprised to see the Twins stick with a Brendan Harris/Brian Buscher platoon in 2009.
Rolling into 2009 with the same group of infielders as the they sported last year is a pretty questionable plan for the Twins given how flawed those players are, but I’m starting to think that -- for better or for worse -- management wants to go forward with the guys who brought the team within a game of the playoffs last year.
I’ll touch on yesterday’s Rule 5 draft very briefly. I don’t want to talk about it much because, frankly, I find the Rule 5 draft to be mind-boggling. Most of the decisions make no sense to me. The Twins had a chance to recoup a valuable asset when Eduardo Morlan remained available at their 14th pick, but they passed on him and instead selected the Yankees' Jason Jones, a 26-year-old with only 11 innings of experience above Double-A and a very mediocre minor-league track record. If the Twins didn’t want to take a risk on Morlan, that’s fine, but I don’t see any wisdom in bringing in a low-upside guy like Jones when the big-league bullpen is already inhabited by Philip Humber and Boof Bonser, both of whom figure to be much better relievers than Jones this year. The Twins must either plan on swinging a deal to bring Jones into the organization as a minor-leaguer, or else they don’t expect either Humber or Bonser to be around much longer. Or they saw a soft-tossing right-hander who throws strikes, got needlessly excited and threw logic out the window.
Compounding my confusion over the Rule 5 draft is the that opposing clubs passed over numerous viable prospects left off the Twins’ 40-man roster, and the only guy to get selected was Jose Lugo, a 24-year-old lefty reliever who posted a 4.04 ERA in Ft. Myers last year and who I’ve never heard of before.