In 2012 infielder Jamey Carroll played in 138 games (second-most of his career) and racked up a career-high 537 plate appearances. He was the Opening Day shortstop but that was the position that he played the third-most. He played 66 games at second base, 44 games at third base and 37 games at shortstop. Through 13 games in 2013, Jamey Carroll has made just two starts and has a total of nine plate appearances. Why has his role been so diminished to start this season? I think there are a few potentially good reasons.
Did Carroll’s skills diminish in 2012? At first glance, looking at just his .660 OPS in 2012, we see a drop from .718 and .706 in 2010 and 2011, respectively. However, his Isolated Discipline (OBP – BA) of .075 was better than 2012 (.069). For his career, his Isolated Discipline is .078. In other words, his approach at the plate was right on par with his career. His 2012 Isolated Power (SLG – BA) was .049. A year earlier, that number was .057 and for his career, it is .067. So, his “power” dropped slightly from not-very-much to even-less. The .022 drop in batting average accounted for .044 drop in OPS by itself. Considering that he got off to such a slow start (hitting .214 in April), he was himself the rest of the season.
The summary of the previous paragraph is that it was clear that Carroll’s production drop in 2012 was more related to a couple of hits falling (or not falling) in over the course of the season rather than a fundamental flaw in his approach.
The Twins have committed to giving every opportunity to 26-year-old Trevor Plouffe at third base, 26-year-old Pedro Florimon at shortstop and 25-year-old Brian Dozier at second base. The primary utility player at this stage of the season has been 24-year-old Eduardo Escobar. As much as the Twins say aloud that 2013 is about winning, it makes much sense for the rebuilding organization to play the younger guys as much as possible, ahead of the 39-year-old Jamey Carroll.
One side aspect of this situation is that Carroll is a terrific person and happy to teach. He can be a strong influence on the younger players offensively and defensively. Carroll is as steady as it gets with the glove. His demeanor is exemplary on and off the field. He has kept himself in great playing shape throughout his career. And offensively, Carroll remains one of the more patient hitters on the roster.
Is it possible that a large percentage of Carroll’s lack of playing time is money-related as well? He is making $3.75 million in 2013. It is the second year of his 2 year, $6.5 million contract. However, the contract comes with a $2 million club option for 2014 that the Twins could consider picking up. It becomes a player option if he reaches 401 plate appearances.
That is a number he has reached in each of the past three seasons. However, in the previous seven full seasons before 2010, he reached that number just twice. Since he is a prototypical #2 hitter, if he were playing most days, he would average about 4.2 plate appearances per start. He would need about 96 starts to eclipse that mark. If he continues to get just nine plate appearances for every 13 games, he would end the season with fewer than 120 plate appearances.
At some point during the season, an infielder may get hurt and need to miss 15 to 20 games. Would the Twins start Carroll or Escobar in that situation? My assumption today would be that most of those starts would go to Carroll. Escobar really profiles to be the next in a long line of solid, long-term utility infielders like Al Newman, Jeff Reboulet, Denny Hocking and Nick Punto.
No one is feeling sorry for Jamey Carroll. The author of this article and most of those reading it would give just about anything to sit on the end of a Major League Baseball bench and still make $3.75 million for the year.
Carroll has had about as good of a career as a guy can have who didn't debut in the big leagues until he was 28 years old. He has over 10 years of service time and has earned the respect of his peers around the game of baseball. I had the opportunity to briefly meet Carroll at Twins Fest and he is one of the nicest people I have ever met. He acknowledged that he has a goal to play in the big leagues as a 40 year old. He will turn 40 as spring training is starting next year.
It may be as simple as the Twins are going to play those young guys and give them a lot of rope to start the season. That’s completely understandable on a rebuilding team with some terrific prospects on the way but which still has to determine which of these current young players warrant a spot on future Twins teams.
It may be as simple as trying to get out from needing to pay Carroll $2 million in 2014, although that is a very fair rate for a quality utility infielder in baseball.
It is also possible that, despite Carroll’s work ethic, his skills had diminished enough to notice in spring training and he simply is not considered the player that he was within the organization.
Who knows? Maybe there is something else going on all together.