May 12, 2010

Twins Place J.J. Hardy on the Disabled List, Call Up Matt Tolbert

J.J. Hardy had an amazing ninth inning last Tuesday versus the Tigers, making a game-saving play on defense in the top of the inning and then scoring the game-winning run after tripling in the bottom of the frame. Unfortunately, he hasn't played since then because of a wrist injury suffered sliding into third base on the triple and the Twins finally placed Hardy on the disabled list yesterday.

Hardy was diagnosed with a bone bruise after an MRI exam showed no structural damage and was told by a hand specialist that he should be ready to come off the DL when eligible May 20. Rather than replace Hardy with Luke Hughes or Trevor Plouffe or Danny Valencia the Twins called up Matt Tolbert, adding another light-hitting utility man to a roster that already included Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, and Brendan Harris.

Tolbert is a Ron Gardenhire favorite because he's essentially a poor man's Punto, offering the same combination of false hustle, diminutive scappiness, and offensive ineptitude without any of the great defense. Gardenhire loves players like that and the Twins love to avoid making big changes in situations like this, which is why Tolbert got the call-up despite being a marginal big leaguer who was hitting just .232/.283/.348 (with six errors) in 27 games at Triple-A.

Bypassing a legitimate prospect in favor of the 28-year-old Tolbert means two of Punto, Harris, Casilla, and Tolbert will be in the lineup every day until Hardy comes off the shelf. Beyond that, the defense will also take a major hit because Hardy is an excellent defender and Gardenhire oddly refuses to shift Punto from third base to shortstop. For instance, last night Punto stayed at third base and Harris started at shortstop despite lacking the basic range for the position.

Gardenhire constantly praises Punto as an elite defender at any position and has often shied away from playing Harris at third base because his glove is shaky even there, yet inexplicably won't swap them because Punto is "spectacular at third base" and he's more concerned with not "changing too many guys" than actually putting the best defense on the field. By calling up Tolbert the front office took a similar approach to the roster and the combination is frustrating.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

• In addition to calling up Tolbert to replace Hardy the Twins also had Jose Mijares fly in from Rochester, presumably with an eye toward sending down a catcher and going back to their now-standard 12-man pitching staff prior to this afternoon's game. Mijares has been on the DL with a sore elbow since April 17 and was awful in two rehab outings at Triple-A, allowing five runs in 1.2 innings. He'd be the bullpen's third lefty behind Ron Mahay and Brian Duensing.

• In an odd little twist of fate, Hardy went on the DL less than 24 hours after the man he was traded for, Carlos Gomez, was placed on the DL by the Brewers. Hardy has hit .250/.299/.400 in 108 plate appearances, whereas prior to going down with a shoulder injury Gomez batted .276/.321/.447 in 84 plate appearances while going 6-for-6 on steals.

• Earlier this week I wrote about Kyle Gibson's impressive professional debut at high Single-A and as part of a slew of minor-league moves the Twins promoted the 2009 first-round pick to Double-A yesterday. His final stats at Fort Myers: 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA, .213 opponents' batting average, 40-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and nearly four ground balls for every fly ball in 43.1 innings spread over seven starts.

  • Ryan H.

    How do you feel about Deolis Guerra moving up to AAA? He just turned 21!

  • Adam S.

    Very doubtful Tolbert will get a start over the next week. Lexi will get a couple with Harris getting the rest. Tolbert will just be a bench player til Hardy gets back. I woulda rather seen Hughes come back, kinda suprising they didn’t call him up instead.

  • MC

    Speaking of false hustle, was anyone else pissed at Punto for diving and nearly giving up the run in the 5th on that foul ball, not to mention he hurt himself doing it.

    Pull your head out your rear!

  • CoachFSCB

    Aaron, you are spot on about this. Punto needs to slide over to short with Harris manning third. Harris doesn’t have the range at short, but he does play a very good defensive third base. Tolbert? I’m just shaking my head…with the Yankees, Blue Jay, and Red Sox coming up, it seems likely that the Twins may need a bat off the bench to pinch-hit for Punto late in a ball game, and instead they call up Matt Tolbert? They’re also likely to send down Ramos today, subtracting a legitimate bench threat and late-inning pinch-hitting option. I fail to see any way that adding Tolbert strengthens this team, and I fear that having him around will tempt Gardenhire to actually play him — I can envision an upcoming game where Gardy unleashes the nightmare scenario of starting Tolbert at 2B, Casilla at SS, and Punto at 3B. Yeah, that ought to have the Bronx Bombers quaking with fear. Same old Twins…bringing a (small) knife to a gunfight. Aaron got it right — frustrating!

  • Adam S.

    MC- are you joking?

    Punto is probably the only player on the team that woulda even got a sniff at that ball, everyone else woula still been jogging looking for it. And you are idiot if you think that the out isn’t worth getting if it means giving up the run. Up 1 you take the outs, maybe in a tie game in the 8th or 9th you let it drop. You get your head out of your ass.

  • Rory

    Good post but I disagree about Punto and Tolbert having “false hustle.” It makes it sound like they are just making it look like they are trying hard and hustling, when in reality it’s more like “stupid hustle” because they don’t think about what they are doing.Don’t tell me that Punto is not trying as hard as he can when he does things like sliding into first base. It’s not false, it’s just kinda dumb.

  • jama

    Aaron,

    With your new web format are still able to do chats? It’d be great to get a chat in once every couple of weeks.

  • Steve J

    The infield situation makes me wonder why they let Steve Tolleson go. He was reputed to have decent defense, and while by no means a good prospect, looked like a guy that may have developed passible offence for a MI. I don’t understand the fascination with Harris and consider the contract tendered him the biggest headscratcher of the offseason. The guy had one good year at the plate with Tampa, and while we knew his defense was poor back then, he’s followed it up with two bad years at the plate. I’m not sure why Minnesota didn’t non-tender Harris…

  • Team Hunt

    I questioned Punto’s attempt on that foul ball at the moment, but I guess when you consider what could happen (for example, Slowey could come unhinged and give up 5 runs in the 5th) I guess you gotta take the out at that stage of the game. And I have been known to bash Punto, but never for false hustle.

    What is the deal with Ullger? That is at least the 3rd runner he’s had nailed at the plate by 30 feet this year. 1/3 of the baseline. When your 3rd base coach is consistently missing my some fracton of the baseline, there is a problem. He’s going to get somebody hurt. Last night it was Kubel, who isn’t winning any footraces these days.

  • ?

    “Gardenhire constantly praises Punto as an elite defender at any position and has often shied away from playing Harris at third base because his glove is shaky even there, yet inexplicably won’t swap them because Punto is “spectacular at third base” and he’s more concerned with not “changing too many guys” than actually putting the best defense on the field. ”

    I don’t think inexplicable is the word you want there, particularly since you follow it with Gardenhire’s “explanation”.

  • ct

    I really like this Twins team, but they have played great so far including some pitching that was a little above their head. A little worried that these injuries might bring them down to earth a little and maybe back to the pack and the Tigers

  • peterS

    ..hmm…mid may and Delmon has a better stat line than Cuddyer… what does that say about Delmon? and what does that say about Cuddyer?…hmm….

  • toby

    peterS: AND Delmon’s got better range and an equivalent arm to boot. Funny.

    But the main thing is: pray for the abject failure of Matt Tolbert this call up. Any whiff of success and we’re sure to get him AGAIN in a higher leverage situation, maybe even at the permanent expense of Harris. Plouffe deserved the shot, every non-casual Twins fan knows it, and there is no explanation for Tolbert other than “Professor Gardenhire likes him on a personal level”. Which isn’t to say P.G. doesn’t see that affection in professional (albeit vague and qualitative) terms, it’s just to say that it boils down to affection — affinity; personal comfort; ego-mirroring — not something related to baseball skills that can be defended with any known metric. Are we to believe that if Trevor Plouffe were called up he wouldn’t “hustle”!?? Really?

  • stuart

    “there is no explanation for Tolbert other than “Professor Gardenhire likes him on a personal level””

    Actually, there are other reasons. It’s highly likely Tolbert won’t play much at all over the next ten days. So why start the clock on a player’s major league service time if you don’t plan on playing that player regularly, especially if you think that player could use more seasoning? This is the same rationale used for keeping Butera over Ramos.

    Whether Plouffe should be playing SS instead of Harris is a different issue. I know Plouffe has been playing well for the last month, but this spring he was the #27 prospect in the system (according to AG). It doesn’t seem like a travesty to keep him on the farm a bit longer.

    I’ve been reading this blog for years, and I really value Gleeman’s opinion (and many of the comments). I’ve learned a lot here. But it seems to me that there’s a knee-jerk “Gardy is stupid” aspect to a lot of the commentary that is increasingly out of sync with the results he has achieved. I question his individual moves from time to time, but on the whole I side with Posnanski’s view of Gardenhire.

    Punto has been playing amazingly well at 3rd base. Isn’t it at least plausible that it makes sense to leave him there? Or do you really believe that Gardenhire has no interest in “actually putting the best defense on the field”?

  • Span Man!

    stuart- although Gardenhire has great results, he has been fortunate that it doesn’t leave egg in his face on a regular basis. The guy makes a lot of bad decisions both in a game (never bunts or moves people over like Tom Kelly ball) and or with call ups (never brings up young talent.

    You need to have guys like Plouffe, Valencia, and others get at least a taste of the majors otherwise they will feel doomed in AAA. Then it seems like the only way they get noticed is if they bat .400 for season or some crazy hitting numbers over a period of time. Guys need to get a taste (see Ramos for his production with just a taste). Gardy needs to do the RIGHT move not his move because he’s a “Gardy guy”.

  • blarg!

    Really basic fact for span mam: gardy doesn’t make personel decisions, GM has ultimate responsibility for that. Place blame on BS if you have a problem with who gets called up and when.

  • scott

    The only thing i cared about in this write-up was the fact that Kyle Gibson was promoted to AA. Coupled with Deolis moving up to AAA, we could potentially be looking at the top end of our rotation in 2 years. And I like the fact they have been promoted early in the year, let them get a whole years worth of experience at the respective levels (or in Gibson’s case, its a possibility he could jump up to AAA this year too.

  • toby

    Stuart, I understand the Super 2 deadline’s not here yet. I get it. But Brendan Harris, love him though I do, doesn’t really have MLB range at shortstop, so if you’re NOT going to call up Plouffe to play short, Punto needs to play there and Valencia or Hughes needs to be backing up Harris at 3rd, UNLESS you don’t believe all 162 games count the same in the end and thus do think the Twins can readily afford to spend 12 days or whatever it is with 2 of Casilla, Punto and Tolbert in the batting order OR Brendan Harris playing shortstop. (BTW, I’ll take the latter in a heartbeat.)

    Do you REALLY not believe Prof. Gardenhire has massive pull when it comes to short-term decisions like this? Do you REALLY believe he didn’t lobby for Tolbert? Maybe not. Maybe B.S. is playing super-evil-genius and letting Tolbert dig his own grave once and for all, while, as you allude, giving the ballclub an extra season of control over Plouffe. And gosh golly I hope it works out. I just hope it doesn’t work out in such a way that we have to see Matt Tolbert in 40 more games this season thanks to his “gritty performance” and a clutch game-winning base hit or some such thing, ’cause that’s gonna be a BIG net loss.

  • Jake

    I don’t see anything that wrong with the Tolbert callup. Hardy is expected to miss six games. It would be foolish to waste an option just to give a good prospect a week with no play time, especially when you have Tolbert sitting there. This position is basically pinch runner and emergency utility. Do we really need to spend 3 paragraphs ripping Gardy for this, while also using it as an excuse to bring up the Punto bashing angle.

    And I know a guy like AG would discard this factor, since there isn’t a sabremetric for it, but giving a guy playing time based partially on how hard they bust their ass can pay dividends. Tolbert works very hard and is rewarded by being the callup in a marginal situation (pay attention Danny and Trevor). I think that the Twins generally breed hard working players and that doesn’t happen magically by asking nicely.

    Also, let’s not get carried away with the Punto bashing. Is he an elite player? Well, obviously not. But a career 0.700 OPS with decent speed and very good defense at 3 positions. He isn’t that bad of a player. A bit below average. But factor in his versatility, fun to watch angle, and his effect on other players and maybe he flirts with average.

  • MrHockey

    Tom Kelly ball? Kelly believed that a sacrifice bunt was a wasted out. At least Gardie calls for the suicide squeeze once in a while.