Likely Starter: Jamey Carroll
2011 Stats: .290/.359/.347, 0 HR, 17 RBI, 52 R, 10/10 SB
Potential Backups: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Brian Dozier, Pedro Florimon
Welcome Jamey Carroll, the latest passenger on Minnesota's never-ending shortstop carousel.
Since Cristian Guzman's departure, the Twins have opened with six different players at the position in seven seasons. Their Opening Day shortstops have ended up averaging 68 starts there, and only one – Jason Bartlett in 2007 – actually started over 100 games in a season.
At this point, the Twins would settle for even short-term stability, and that's what they're seeking in Carroll, a 38-year-old journeyman signed to a two-year deal during the offseason.
The words "stability" and "journeyman" might seem odd when coupled in the same sentence, especially when the player in question is almost 40. Indeed, Carroll – who didn't reach the majors until he was 28 – is now with his fifth organization and has profiled as a part-time utility man for most of his career.
These facts leave plenty of room to question whether he can be the steady veteran rock that the Twins desperately need him to be. But if you look at his most recent history – and that seems fair – it isn't difficult to see why the Twins decided to go with him.
Although he had made only 46 career starts at shortstop prior to joining Los Angeles in 2010, he exceeded that number in both of his seasons with the Dodgers and was often used as a regular there when Rafael Furcal wasn't available.
Carroll's offensive numbers over those two seasons were respectable enough, as he made up for a complete lack of pop (.054 Isolated Power) by hitting .290 both years and getting on base at a .368 overall clip. It will be interesting to see whether he can maintain those numbers while batting second regularly in an AL lineup, but if he can he'll be a serviceable hitter.
Defense is the bigger question mark. There are differing opinions on how he'll hold up at the toughest infield position full-time, but clearly he wasn't thought of as a shortstop prior to arriving in Los Angeles at age 36. Even in the minors, Carroll played nearly twice as many games at second than at short – that just doesn't happen with great middle infield defenders.
It's possible that the veteran has turned a corner and improved his skills enough to earn the increased tread at shortstop over the past couple seasons, but that seems unlikely for a player in his late 30s. I'd guess that more than anything it was his level of experience, his reputation as a good clubhouse presence and his almost non-existent injury history that served as impetuses for Terry Ryan to take the plunge early in the offseason.
Those aren't insignificant factors, but none of them make Carroll particularly likely to excel as a full-time major-league shortstop here in the twilight of his career. Of course, the Twins would settle for a guy who stays healthy and doesn't kick the ball around given the disaster that took place last year. What's alarming is that if Carroll doesn't last, we may be looking at a similarly painful situation this summer, because the depth at this position is brutal.
Who else can play shortstop for the Twins? Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Trevor Plouffe got their chances last year and proved to be defensive liabilities. Ryan has stated
that the Alexi Casilla experiment at short last year "didn't really work out." Who else is there? Brian Dozier, who hasn't played above Double-A and is considered by many to be destined for second? Pedro Florimon, the offseason waiver pickup with a .676 OPS in the minors and 26 errors in Double-A last year?
The Twins are trying their luck with a 38-year-old career utility man as their starting shortstop, and all of his backup options appear to either belong at second base, in the minors, or both. The carousel moves on, as this organization's continued inability to properly address the most important position on the diamond keeps on coming around to haunt them.
Predicted 2012 Hitting Line for Carroll: .260/.335/.305, 0 HR, 20 RBI