The Twins took their first step toward addressing a decimated infield today, signing free agent Jamey Carroll. According to Ken Rosenthal's sources, the plan is for Carroll to become the team's everyday shortstop.
My stance has been that the Twins' approach this offseason ought to involve finding competent stopgaps that could potentially aid a return to contention in 2012 if things break right, but won't break the bank or require significant long-term commitments. Carroll fits that bill about as well as Ramon Santiago or Nick Punto, who were the players I suggested in my blueprint last month.
Although he'll turn 38 in February, the righty-swinging Carroll has been a consistent producer, finishing with an on-base percentage of .355 or higher in each of the past four seasons, with steady if unspectacular defense in the middle infield. Twins shortstops turned in a .292 OBP while frequently batting in the two-hole this year, so the upgrade potential here is massive. Though he has no power to speak of (he hasn't hit a home run since August of 2009), Carroll is a disciplined hitter, a good base runner and last year he turned in the second-lowest swinging strike percentage in the majors. He's the quintessential piranha.
It's unclear how the veteran's range will play at shortstop as he inches toward his fourth decade of life, but he's committed only nine errors in 1,000 innings at the position for the Dodgers over the past two years, making it easy to recognize his appeal to Terry Ryan and the Twins after a gaffe-filled 2011.
I will say that I've got some quibbles with the contract. The Twins reportedly are guaranteeing Carroll between $6-7 million on a two-year deal; that seems quite excessive for a middling 37-year-old who has earned less than $12 million in his big-league career up to this point. He's bound to start declining sometime, perhaps as soon as 2012, and if that's the case his contract will prove considerably more burdensome than a cheap one-year pact with a similar option (such as Punto).
Here's another thing that should be noted about Carroll: While his .368 on-base percentage over the past two years is impressive, nearly half of his at-bats came in front of the pitcher. If you want an idea of how hitting eighth in an NL lineup can inflate an OBP, consider that Punto posted a career-high .388 mark this year while getting a big chunk of his at-bats there for the Cardinals.
Still, at the end of the day, $3.5 million is a reasonable price for a starting shortstop, and if the Twins felt compelled to spend a little extra in order to ensure they got their guy so they can move on to addressing other needs -- such as pitcher and catcher -- I can live with that.
I do hope that the club isn't done adding veteran depth to the infield. I also hope that the money saved by acquiring a low-cost starter at shortstop is put to good use elsewhere.