Jason Bartlett has been absent from the Minnesota Twins roster for nearly 6 years now. What Twins’ fans may remember is a polarizing shortstop known for his inconsistent defensive play at shortstop and his lack of power and career .272 batting average with the Twins, but what Twins’ fans may not know is that he currently is a free agent.
His most notable claim to fame with Twins’ fans may be his inclusion in the trade that sent Delmon Young among others to the Twins for Matt Garza and Bartlett. Many years have passed and Bartlett has garnered mixed success in his subsequent two stops for the Tampa Bay Rays and the San Diego Padres. His best season came in 2009 with the Rays when he was named to his lone All-Star appearance by batting .320 with 14 HR, 66 RBI and an OBP of .389 in 137 games played. Since then, Bartlett’s stats have been on the decline in part due to a rash of injuries that have shortened his seasons to a combined 168 games played in the past two seasons. Last season in 29 games for the Padres, Bartlett batted a paltry .144 with 0 HR and 4 RBI; so the question you may be asking yourself is this: why would the Twins want anything to do with him?
The answer is simple: stability and a veteran presence. You could argue that Jamey Carroll presently owns that role on the club; but with a middle infield littered with young players such as Pedro Florimon, Eduardo Escobar and Brian Dozier—who hit a combined .226 this past season—a veteran backup at an affordable price should be something the Twins are actively pursuing. Baseball is a strange game and every year you hear about a team that nobody predicted in spring training, putting it all together and making a run into the postseason such as last year’s Oakland Athletics.
Sometimes those teams are highlighted by young prospects who finally realize their potential, other times they are comprised of veteran players on the last legs of their career like the 2002 A’s team showcased in the motion picture Moneyball. While I don’t see the Twins making a legitimate play for the playoffs in 2013, there still is a possibility that they do in fact pull the unthinkable and earn a playoff birth in an expanded playoff format. Many things have to go right for this to happen; two of those things are veteran leadership and a strong defense behind a pitch-to-contact pitching staff. Bartlett would provide both at a relatively inexpensive cost.
I would not endorse that Bartlett becomes the everyday shortstop because that position should be given to a younger player who needs the playing time and experience to help them improve and possibly contribute to a hopefully contending team in 2015. I would, however, endorse signing Bartlett to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. He could then compete for a roster spot and take on a mentor role within the clubhouse to complement Carroll.
From watching Bartlett play in the past, his effort, professionalism and preparation for how he plays the game rivals that of the aforementioned Carroll, and would be a beneficial addition to a young Twins infield. In the event of an injury—which the Twins have endured by the dozen over the past few seasons—or poor play where a young shortstop gets sent back to Triple-A, Bartlett could now step in to provide a solid contribution to the club in an extended role; and if by some luck the Twins are in a playoff chase, he could provide the leadership and experience the team is in need of.
I have not heard any indication that there is any interest of bringing Bartlett back to the Twins and a signing at this time is not imminent; however, could Bartlett be the missing piece to the Twins’ championship puzzle? I believe the answer to that is a resounding no because the team is more than a shortstop away from contention; but at the right price, why not take a chance on a player who could provide insurance and guidance at a position of instability?