Nick Punto has been a fixture for the Twins ever since being acquired alongside Carlos Silva in a 2003 trade. Over the past seven years, perhaps no player has incurred more wrath than the fan base than Punto, who undoubtedly earned more playing time (2,707 plate appearances) and money (over $14 million) than his ability warranted during his tenure in Minnesota.
As anyone who's played on a baseball team will attest, being in the manager's good graces can be very beneficial. Punto knows this better than anyone. For whatever reason, Ron Gardenhire seemed entranced with him, perhaps seeing some of his old self in the versatile, hustling, light-hitting infielder. Without a doubt, Punto's value was overblown by the Twins' coaching staff -- and, perhaps as an extension of that, the front office.
For that reason, it's curious that the Twins were unwilling to bring him back at a point where it would have seemingly made sense to do so. The Twins and Punto officially parted ways on Friday, when the free agent signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Cardinals.
Punto was surely stretched as a starter, so it was frustrating to see him paid (and often times played) like one over the past several years. But he's a quality defender at no less than three different positions. Players like that aren't easy to find. He's a good backup and not a bad fallback option to have on the roster; after all, Punto's best seasons ('06, '08) have come when he's started as a backup and stepped in for a struggling or injured starter. Given the uncertainty surrounding the Twins' infield this season, a player with that history would be valuable, especially at the price the Cards got him for.
That the Twins were willing to let Punto walk over such an insignificant price indicates that they feel the 33-year-old's assets -- namely, defense and foot speed -- are ready to decline, though there wasn't much evidence of that last year. Matt Tolbert, on the surface, looks like a decent enough replacement, but the modest difference in price wouldn't seem to override the sizable difference in big-league track record.
Punto's exit is widely being met with glee by fans. He'll probably be remembered more for his historically awful 2007 campaign and his third base overrun in the '09 ALDS than his numerous highlight reel plays, but that's the nature of the beast.
If the Twins were ready to move on, I'm willing to assume that he's done as a useful player. I can't imagine them parting with him over $700K, in their current situation, unless they thought that was the case. As such, I'm not exactly feeling sweet sorrow over this parting.
Nevertheless, it wasn't such a bad run, all things considered.