Monday, May 11, 2009

Word From Up Top?

Having watched Ron Gardenhire manage this team for the past seven years, we've grown pretty familiar with his tendencies and preferences. We know his tactics, we know how he likes to fill out a lineup, we know how he likes to utilize his bullpen. We also definitely know that there is a particular type of player that Gardenhire especially likes, and that he is generally much more likely to have a longer leash with players who fall into this mold.

Gardenhire, much like the Twins as an organization, values good defensive players. He likes guys that play hard and hustle. If he likes a player, you'll frequently hear him refer to that player as "scrappy," or you'll see him talk about how the player "battles his tail off." Gardenhire also likes players who have a positive influence in the clubhouse. Offensive production often takes a back seat to these factors in the mind of the Twins' manager, which is why Nick Punto remained a regular player for the entirety of his disastrous 2007 season. It's also why Matt Tolbert has immediately seized the starting second base job and second spot in the lineup while Brendan Harris still must fight for playing time. I've always figured that Gardy's affinity for this type of player is based on the fact that he himself was a light-hitting hustle guy when he played in the big leagues.

Given Gardenhire's historical tendencies, I'm having a very difficult time understanding why he has seemingly elected to make Delmon Young his starting left fielder while relegating Carlos Gomez to a bench role as a fourth outfielder and late-game defensive replacement. Obviously I think Gomez should be the team's starting center fielder, and I don't suspect that Gardenhire would agree for the same reasons. I doubt he's aware that Wins Above Replacement (a statistic which incorporates both offense and defense) shows Gomez as an above-average player up to this point, with his advantage over Young being roughly equivalent to Justin Morneau's advantage over Michael Cuddyer. I also doubt that Gardenhire knows -- or cares -- that there are articles out there concluding that Denard Span is worth 37 runs over Young in left field. But being that Gomez plays fantastic defense, hustles all over the field, maintains an enthusiastic clubhouse demeanor and is built to do all the little things (bunting, stealing, etc.), it baffles me that Gardenhire is choosing to bench Gomez in favor of Young, who doesn't seem to embody any of those qualities. There's one theory I keep coming back to: he's not.

During the offseason, it was widely reported that the Twins were aggressively shopping Young. Several reporters who covered the winter meetings got the sense that the chances of Young being on the Twins' Opening Day roster this season were outweighed by the chances he wouldn't be. Of course, he didn't end up being moved, and the reason for that could very well be that no other general managers were offering much for the former top prospect, who was coming off his second straight disappointing major-league season.

So, perhaps the Twins are still interested in moving Young. And perhaps the knowledge that Young has no chance of ramping up his trade value while sitting on the bench has motivated Bill Smith and the front office to influence Gardenhire's decision-making process. If regular playing time could put Young on some sort of hot streak, it might pique the interest of teams searching for a right-handed bat.

There are plenty of smart people who disagree with my opinion that Gomez should be ahead of Young on the outfield depth chart, and there have been a number of reasonable points used in support of that particular view. But none of these reasons seem like the type that would be used by the Gardenhire that I've come to know. I've got to believe there's more going on here than meets the eye.

8 comments:

armadillo44 said...

Wow...I just left a similar comment on Gleeman's blog before coming here and agree that they are trying to improve Young's trade value which really isn't a terrible strategy. Other teams aren't going to give up much for him but perhaps we can get another useful arm in the pen or decent minor league prospect. In any case I hope you are correct. Great post.

Anonymous said...

Hm, I hadn't really thought about it like this, but reading your article, I really wonder if you are not right, that would seem the only logical conclusion for playing Young so much...

thrylos98 said...

I really think that both Gomez and Young should play most of the time. Young should play in his natural position, right field. That would make Cuddyer the odd man out to the decrement of Gardy and some of the Twins' brass, but to the delight of many Twins' fans...

Nick N. said...

"I really think that both Gomez and Young should play most of the time. Young should play in his natural position, right field. That would make Cuddyer the odd man out to the decrement of Gardy and some of the Twins' brass, but to the delight of many Twins' fans..."

Huh? Why would Twins fans be delighted to see the team's fourth-best hitter -- a guy who has a 1122 OPS since the beginning of May -- benched?

armadillo44 said...

I think much of the disdain for Cuddyer comes from the fact that he is overpaid which is true but that's not his fault and the Twins certainly can afford to overpay for him right now. Young quite possibly may turn out to be the better player in a few years but if I'm picking for this year Cuddyer is clearly the better player...walks more, has more homerun and gap power, and is less of a defensive liability. Don't get me wrong, Cuddyer isn't going to be an allstar and his RBI totals are inflated due to his spot in the lineup. When the Twins traded for Young I wanted to believe he was the next Kirby Puckett but since then haven't seen anything to convince me he'll be any better offensively then Jason Tyner. And hey at least Tyner could play good defense. Still hope he'll surprise me but I'm not counting on it.

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