Column: Twins and the 2008 baseball season

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 1, 2008

By Jon Laging, Talking Sports

Last week we talked of the offseason and what had befallen our team. It was the first time in many years that I watched the Twins go downhill. Not since the trade of Chuck Knoblach has the team not maintained the status quo. You could anticipate improvement from year to year, for one reason or another. I thought letting Cory Koskie leave was not a good move, but Koskie was injury prone and it turned out the Twins knew more than outside observers. Not too surprising.

Last week&8217;s column left off with the loss of shortstop Jason Bartlett and second baseman Luis Castillo. Bartlett was traded in the deal that garnered Delmon Young. A major league starting shortstop, Bartlett wasn&8217;t even the key to getting Young. Matt Garza was. The Twins have not seemed reluctant to see him go, either at the time of the trade or any time since. To date there has not been much discussion concerning Bartlett. The bloggers have hardly mentioned his loss. His ex-teammates have nothing to say nor do any of the staff writers. It&8217;s like he didn&8217;t exist. I have not heard Gardenhire on the subject. Gardy has never been a big booster of Bartlett&8217;s and preferred to start the 2006 season with weak fielding, weak hitting, utility infielder Juan Castro at shortstop.

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Bartlett did provide a boost in 2006 hitting .309 after he was called up. However, in 2007, Bartlett&8217;s average sank to .265 and he made 26 errors, many in crucial situations. He offered two things to the Twins, speed on the basepaths and range in the field. Gardy didn&8217;t like his play at times and I have to agree with him. Not a big loss, but still a starting member of the team.

The Twins also traded Luis Castillo to the Mets, primarily to save $650,000. And in so doing may have ruined any chance of persuading Johan Santana that they would strive for the pennant in 2007, or the near future. As my mother used to say; &8220;Penny wise and pound foolish.&8221; Both Bartlett and Castillo&8217;s replacement contributed to Santana&8217;s losses.

Manager Ron Gardenhire has done well with the Twins, but no manager is perfect and one of his flaws seems to be the inclination that unless a regular is able to go hard all the time his value is substantially lessened. Castillo had problems with his legs and needed to be rested from time to time playing on the Metrodome&8217;s hard surface. Granted All-Star Castillo had a problem, but he was a fine fielder and hitter. He was a member of a World Series winner and while Castillo is not at the peak of his career, the Mets thought enough of him to sign him to a four-year $25 million contract. It&8217;s kind of ironic that he and Santana will be reunited.

Another player of the past that should have had off days was Jacque Jones, not for any physical problems, rather that he couldn&8217;t hit left-handed pitching well. Jones has hit right-handers at a .294 clip and lefties at .233, but Gardenhire did not platoon him. Jones spent seven years with the Twins. He was a good weapon, but not against lefties. Yet, Gardenhire kept throwing him out there.

In this column I have grumpily complained about our ex-shortstop, the loss of our second baseman and the failings of Gardenhire. Perhaps it is because I have limited hope for our 2008 Twins. You can&8217;t lose your top three pitchers including the two-time Cy Young winner, the all-star centerfielder, the middle of the infield, finish third in your division and expect something good as a result. All this can&8217;t happen to the Twins and then expect them to &8220;tear up the pea patch&8221; next year as Red Barber used to say.

Jon Laging writes a regional sports column from his home in Preston.