According to news reports, the Twins have reached an agreement with infielder Jamey Carroll for a two year deal worth $7 million. If the deal goes through, it would be the first significant transaction of the second Terry Ryan era.
Carroll will be 38 years old by Opening Day, but he should still be an upgrade over the Twins middle infielders from last season. He is a career .278/.356/.348 hitter whose ability to get on base has always made up for his complete lack of power. He is not known as an elite defender at second base or shortstop, but he is far from an embarrassment at either position, either. At the very least, this signing proves that the Twins are not going to inflict Tsuyoshi Nishioka upon their fans in 2012.
A late bloomer as far as Major Leaguers go, Carroll did not make his MLB debut until age 28, when the Montreal Expos called him up during the 2002 season. He was a utility infielder for several seasons with Montreal and Washington. He has also played with the Rockies, Indians, and Dodgers. Colorado gave Carroll his first shot as an everyday player in 2006, and Carroll has played on a semi-regular basis since. Last year with Los Angeles, Carroll was .290/.359/.347 in 510 plate appearances.
Carroll is far from the most glamorous free agent on the market, but the Twins could have done worse. Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins were never within the Twins’ reach; aside from those two, every shortstop on the market had significant questions. Alex Gonzalez, Clint Barmes and Ramon Santiago were intriguing options, but all have serious trouble getting on base. Orlando Cabrera, Jack Wilson, and Edgar Renteria are all well past their primes. Obviously, age is a concern for Carroll too, but he was able to play at a high level last year, so the Twins decided to take a chance.
The move makes sense for several reasons. First, the Twins’ middle infield situation was so terrible last year that any change would count as an improvement. Nishioka had a WAR of -1.4 last year.Jamey Carroll’s WAR with the Dodgers was 2.2, so on paper this move is a 3.6 win improvement. Second, with a two year deal the Twins have some flexibility. If Brian Dozier turns out to be a legitimate prospect, the team can transition him into a starting role in 2013 without having a long contract on the books. But if Dozier doesn’t work out, Carroll will be an insurance policy for another season. Third, Carroll’s versatility – he has played 2B, 3B, SS, and all three outfield positions in his career – provides flexibility in the likely event that Michael Cuddyer departs. Finally, signing a shortstop early in the offseason allows the Twins more time to focus on their other areas of need, such as starting pitching and backup catcher.
Some may argue that $7 million over two years is too much to pay for a player of Carroll’s age, and they probably are not wrong. But this isn’t exactly a high dollar commitment. If Carroll doesn’t work out, this move would not be significant enough to damage the team. Worst case scenario: Carroll becomes another Jeff Cirillo. Best case scenario: Carroll becomes a right-handed version of 2010 Orlando Hudson, but with better health.