There’s been lots of players moving and money changing hands over the last two days, but when it comes to curious moves and frivolous spending, there’s only one transaction that matters.
Which brings us to Nick Punto.
(Yes, the Rays seem intent on reprising The Idiots and 2004 by signing Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. And the Angels, who traded for Vernon Wells and condemned their fans to a full season of Jeff Mathis catching, seem to have a thing for overpaid, middle-aged, depreciating centerfielders. Still not as interesting as Punto leaving the Twins for the Cardinals.)
A Minneapolis-area newspaper informed its readers of Punto’s departure with the following read-out: “Versatile Nick Punto, love him or hate him, served the team well.”
Uh, no, he didn’t. He mostly played badly, and served the team poorly, which wasn’t all his fault. Many of the readers weren’t fooled. In a poll asking what they will miss about Nick Punto, more than a third (35.7%) had the right answer: “Nothing.” It was second to “fielding,” but still reason to believe there’s an informed electorate of baseball fans out there.
Regular readers know I have a “thing” (no, no, it’s not an obsession) for poor Punto. When someday soon I pick the all-star non-stars, he’ll be on it, along with Livan Hernandez, Carlos Silva, Jason Kendall, etc. But we just can’t let Punto end his tenure with the Twins without comment.
For six seasons, Punto was a Twins infielder who played way more than he should have. Only twice did his average top .239, and only twice did his OPS vault past .658. Power? Sure, he had power. He hit 10 home runs — in those six years combined. He hit just six in the last five years.
Intangibles? Twins fans know about baserunning –his overrunning third base in the 2009 playoffs could be blamed on the temporary confusion of being in a completely unfamiliar environment.
Of course, all this isn’t really as much Punto’s fault as it is the Twins’, who kept spending money on him like a car owner who keeps repairing a clunker and expecting it to run smoother. Better to take that money and invest in another mode of transport, even if it’s a skateboard.
Had the Twins limited Punto to being a utility infielder, he might have held his value. He walks a little, steals bases and fields well. But the Twins so overexposed him as to make him a punchline.
Instead of the 200 or so at-bats he should have had, he averaged 379 per year over the last six. Somehow Punto got 536 at-bats while hitting .210 (with a .562 OPS) in 2007, and 440 more while hitting .228 (with a .621 OPS) for a division-title winning team in 2009.
To be fair, even if grudgingly, Punto did hit .290 in 2006 and .284 in 2008. But he did so with a temperate eye and minimal power, and that moderate success deluded the Twins into thinking Punto was more valuable than he was.
No one’s sure quite how good Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka will be for the Twins, but we do know this: With Punto and Brendan Harris gone, the Twins will be better in the middle of their infield.
And just to be nice, we’ll close by saying something positive about Punto: He’s no Willie Bloomquist. A backhanded compliment is better than none at all.
What They Said
- “It made sense for them and it certainly made sense for us the way this deal was structured.” — Toronto GM Alex Anthopolous after dumping $86 million of Vernon Wells on the Angels.
Stat of the Day
- Vernon Wells hit 223 home runs in his career with the Blue Jays and was second on the team’s all-time HR list. Carlos Delgado hit 336.