The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

April 21, 2014

Thoma column: Bartlett's failure no surprise — except to the Twins

The Jason Bartlett Experiment ended last week with its inevitable failure; the former shortstop aborted his rehab assignment in Fort Myers and retired.

The idea that Bartlett would be a ideal bench component was always illogical. That Ron Gardenhire and Co. were apparently legitimately disappointed that the notion has to be abandoned may illustrate a significant blind spot in the organization.

To be sure, Bartlett’s brief presence on the major league roster probably didn’t cost the Twins any games. They won the one contest in which he had extended playing time (and in which the flow of the game kept finding him, consistently to the Twins’ detriment).

Dave St. Peter, the Twins president, dismissed on Twitter the vocal dismay when Bartlett was named to the Opening Day roster. Why, he wondered, so much displeasure over the 25th man on the roster?

Because of what it said about the organization’s evaluation skills. Set aside Bartlett’s dismal spring training stats. Bartlett is 34, hadn’t played on any level since April 2012, had played one major league game at a position other than shortstop, and, with the singular and fluky exception of 2009, had always been a below-average hitter.

And this is the skill set that Gardenhire saw as comparable to the Tampa Bay Rays’ set of Swiss utility knife players. Seriously?

Gardenhire, understandably, would like what Joe Maddon has with the Rays — a collection of multi-position players who field well enough to play in the middle of the diamond without killing the pitchers and who hit well enough to fill a corner position, at least in a part-time role.

There’s been a long line of “superutility players” over the years. Cesar Tovar was one such for the Twins in the 1960s — Tovar was almost always in the lineup, but seldom at the same position for many games in a row. Tony Phillips was a standout in the 1990s in a similar role for several teams. Ben Zobrist of the Rays has made two All-Star teams.

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