While the answers may not be the same, they're part of the same argument that intertwines the fate of two center field candidates.
Who starts in center field on Opening Day? What's the best way to develop Carlos Gomez, as the likely future of center field? Figuring out the first question holds its own value, but the real debate should begin and end with the second question. A comment by ubelmann in a thread yesterday (check it out here, there's a good discussion on the merits of spring training) brought to light a talking point that, to this point, I've largely ignored here.
Teams will always strive to strike a balance between what's good for the present and what's good for the future. It's the same point that drives a line between those who support signing Livan Hernandez and those who fundamentally oppose it. Making a choice to give innings to Hernandez or a younger option, just like the decision to give center field to Denard Span or Carlos Gomez, isn't a decision that will likely sway the ulitmate fortunes of the team in 2008. They are decisions that will affect future teams; personnel, experience and dollars are all tied into the decision. A team that's building for the future, like the Twins, should be searching for the appropriate balance between the present and the future.
Essentially it breaks down to this: who starts in center field on Opening Day should take a back seat to determining what would be the best decision regarding the development of an individual player. It's a question just as debatable as the ones I've asked recently, but it holds more merit.
Whether it's Span or Gomez who comes north with the Twins at the end of March, there are a couple of things to realize. First, no matter who starts in center field, it isn't the ultimate decision. Minnesota will make a change if and when it is necessary, and both of these players will see at-bats in The Show in '08. Second, no matter who starts in center field, the ultimate number of wins the team accumulates are not likely to vary too greatly. Finally, what is the best way to develop Gomez? Would he benefit more from time at triple-A, or would the trial-by-fire method be more appropriate? At this point, I have no idea. Spring training is necessary for evaluation; in this case, evaluating what the best next step will be for Gomez.
No matter what the Twins decide, their history indicates they'll flip-flop on how to handle the situation. Game time with players like Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Scott Baker, Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza (players who deserved and needed the experience over who the team gave playing time to) was either inconsistent, not given or generally not handled very well in the recent past. If Carlos Gomez comes north with the team, I sincerely hope it's not another situation where they jerk him back and forth between Minneapolis and Rochester.
Naturally this situation should stand on its own merits; Carlos Gomez isn't just another prospect. It's been beaten to death, but he's known as the biggest of the return from the Twins-Mets trade, and who he was dealt for will probably have an effect on how he's brought along.
No matter what happens, patience will be a virtue. If he's sent to the minors to garner experience and grooming, we'll have to be patient and wait for the Twins to determine whether he's ready. If he's granted center field when the season begins, we'll have to be patient and remember that there are going to be some pretty obvious and sometimes cringe-worthy growing pains.