Shortstop has been a rough patch for the Twins this summer. A quick glance through the bargain bin tells me the 38-year old Clayton is still available. Could he provide some defensive help? I don't know, honestly...like Indiana Jones, I'm making this up as I go.
Although offense would be a pleasant surprise from short, that's not my primary concern here. Although, to be fair...it could be:
For anyone brave enough to do the math (actually, for those who aren't, since I'm giving you the answer), that amounts to a combined .232/.277/.333 line from our defensive captains of the infield this year. But, as painful as that is, I'm more concerned about the gloves getting the innings. Everett, according to my eyes, hasn't been as good as advertised, although being on his 2nd DL stint since joining the team sort of hedges expectations. Punto is solid with the glove but unspectacular in range, and Tolbert is short on experience. This leaves us with Alexi Casilla (who's making a home at second base) and Brendan Harris, he-of-the-"stone hands".
Why did I pick Royce Clayton to compare to these guys? Mainly, I was looking for a defensive alternative and I was curious to see how he stacked up against our boys. First, I'll direct you to a Jerry Crasnick piece over at ESPN.com, where he pretty clearly states where Clayton's mind is at in regards to playing baseball:
"...if the right situation came along, both of us [Clayton and Kenny Lofton] would strongly consider coming back and strapping it on," Clayton said. "That's just part of our makeup."
But while Lofton still wants desperately to play, Clayton has already begun the transition to a new and exciting life as a budding entrepreneur.
So, there's that. It sounds like Clayton is happy to move into the next phase of his life, barring an opportunity to basically step in and contribute. Which, really, is a fairly accurate description of what could be done at shortstop for the Twins if they had interest.
Indulge me as I continue looking stuff up, and let's say the Twins try and go after Clayton. Looking at his defensive numbers at short with Toronto in '07, how does he compare to our current candidates? We'll use assistance from defensive metrics kept by The Hardball Times.
BIZ: Balls in the typical "zone" for that position, in this case: shortstop.
Plays: Any play made on one of those balls.
RZR: Percentage of plays made on balls in that defensive zone.
OOZ: Plays made on balls outside a typical "zone" for a shortstop.
WS: These are win shares, but based on fielding only. The weakness here is that fielding win shares aren't seperated by position, but are accumulative defensively on the season, no matter what position was played.
Our biggest problem here is that none of these guys have stayed/been healthy long enough for us to get more than a moderate defensive sample from them this year. For my money, Everett looks like he's still been the best defensive shortstop we have; Punto's had a better ratio of plays made on balls in is zone (in a pretty small sample size), but he's made no plays outside of his zone. No surprises there: if Punto gets to it, he's very solid.
Additionally, we'd have to take into account that Clayton is now 38. That's not exactly a prime athletic age in baseball, especially for a middle infielder not named Vizquel. He hits some line drives and is a decent contact hitter, but he's prone to strikeouts, doesn't take a lot of walks, hits lots of ground balls and has no power. There's no offensive upside to off-set what would likely be declining defensive aptitude.
Finally, we really have no idea how much he'd be looking for, be it financially or in terms of playing time. Would he accept a league-minimum deal? Would he be happy if he had to sit for stretches at a time?
In the end, I don't think there's anything here that we couldn't see coming. Most of this, we knew already, but it was still interesting (for me, anyway) to compare what Clayton could bring to the table in comparison to what we already have in-house. If the Twins do go looking for help at shortstop, which I don't see happening anytime soon, they likely won't be giving the 15th overall pick of the '88 draft a call.
If Adam Everett can get healthy, I still believe he's a more than acceptable defender at shortstop. Nick Punto I wouldn't mind seeing in a stop-gap situation, or as a late-game defensive replacement for Brendan Harris. As far as Matt Tolbert is concerned, I think the jury is still out because we haven't had much of an opportunity to see how his enthusiasm for the game can translate into effort on the field. Finally, for Harris, he's a fine player who just has some issues on defense. Some are physical, some are mechanical and some are mental, but the problems exist, and prolonged exposure at any position in the field is likely to end up in extra runs being allowed at some point.
Right now there don't seem to be any good options. But there's no need to muck up the situation by throwing Clayton into the mix.