Ron Gardenhire made a couple of noteworthy announcements over the past few days regarding the 2010 roster. First, he announced that Nick Punto will be his regular third baseman, ending speculation that Brendan Harris would platoon with Punto at the hot corner. This, of course, is a potentially disastrous move that could end up costing the Twins valuable runs and, hence, victories down the road. One failproof tenet that people should learn here at the MTRC is that Nick Punto will do everything in his power to lose baseball games for the Twins. Punto defenders are usually quick to point out his defensive prowess, but Punto's glove can betray him just as easily as his bat always does. Of course, Brendan Harris is far from a viable upgrade at third, but in comparison to his competition, Harris suddenly looks like Brooks Robinson next to Punto. Alas, Harris will ride the pine for the time being. Most clubs (well-managed ones, at least) would confront the situation by at the very least giving one player the job on a earn-your-keep basis; if you're not producing, you're going to be replaced. Yet, Ron Gardenhire has been through a five-year trial period with Punto and has loved what he has seen (i.e., .210 production at the plate and an average glove). So even if Punto goes out there and hits a buck-forty with ten errors through April, he's likely to keep his job until he gets injured or retires or dies. In many ways, he's like a Supreme Court justice -- job security is a given for a guy like Punto on a Ron Gardenhire-run team.
Secondly, Gardenhire has given the closer's job to Jon Rauch instead of a closer-by-committee approach that he hinted at last week. As a closer, Rauch reeks of a Ron Davis type, one that blows saves in epic fashion. Like Davis was, Rauch is a more than serviceable bullpen asset in a set-up role; replace Davis' Coke-bottle eyeglasses with Rauch's one-of-a-kind neck tattoo, and the similarities continue. At least Rauch isn't Matt Guerrier, but the chances that Ron Gardenhire would prefer losing games in the ninth inning with Guerrier were slim anyways; Gardenhire has proven that Guerrier is a much better pitcher to plug in there when Gardy is in the mood for blowing eighth-inning leads. Consistency in stupidity is a motto that Ron Gardenhire has always employed, and with the roster already undergoing a major change (Nathan's injury), Gardy was certainly hesistant to continue to shake up an already crappy bullpen. In a mild surprise, Pat Neshek made the club out of spring training, but his effectiveness will be questionable considering he's coming off a lengthy rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery and his mechanics leave something to be desired in the first place. Guys like Jose Mijares and Clay Condrey and Brian Douchebag will be "relied" upon to get late-inning outs, too. In short, the bullpen will again be a headache in 2010, and their troubles are exacerbated with the glaring absence of the lone consistent arm, Joe Nathan.
Gardenhire's love-fest with Alexi Casilla will continue for at least the beginning of this season. This move to have Casilla occupy the final roster spot is supremely confounding, but the other options -- Matt Tolbert, Jacque Jones, et al. -- barely sound better. The thing that is so frustrating is that Casilla has done absolutely nothing to deserve winning the spot. He was atrocious in all three of his call-ups last season, played pathetically in winter ball and his average was hovering in the .150 range during spring training. Add to the fact that Drew Butera won the job as Joe Mauer's backup catcher -- not Jose Morales, not Wilson Ramos, who perhaps deserved the job based on spring training performance -- and Gardenhire's final roster spots are a confusing mess. But hey, it's not like we're surprised at this sort of tomfoolery. Leave it up to Ron Gardenhire to turn simple talent appraisal into an unfunny joke.
Look for complete 2010 predictions Sunday.