Last Thursday I asked if Alexi Casilla had the final roster spot locked up. It turns out 65% of you agreed with me that, yeah, the spot was pretty much his. But now, with Opening Day just nine days away and Casilla still adrift in the open seas of competition, maybe being out of options isn't enough.
It seems, at least to me, that over the last few days the competition for the final roster spot has become a legitimate one. For most of the month I've basically dismissed the "competition" as nothing more than lip service--Casilla was out of options while others weren't, still others weren't on the 40-man roster and, finally, the Twins like to carry two backup infielders. For all intents and purposes the "competition" was over before it began.
Enter: Jacque Jones. Last night Jones homered off Baltimore starter Chris Tillman and doubled off Cla Meredith, adding to an already impressive spring training line. Of course it would be easy to look Casilla's production this spring (.162/.262/.243, 37 AB, 3 2B, 8 K, 4 BB) and compare that to Jones' (.344/.400/.625, 32 AB, 3 2B, 2 HR, 7 K, 3 BB) as an easy way to say "Game On", but there's more to it than that.
Jones has been playing like he means it, like he wants the job. You could point to last week when he ran over Dioner Navarro in a spring training game in an effort to score. You could point to the fact that playing well is a good way to take advantage of the opportunities you're being given. You could also point to the fact that he's been getting a lot of playing time recently, and to how much he looks like he's enjoying himself.
It's always easier to look like you're enjoying yourself and like you love your job when you're doing well, but this is it for Jacque. And he knows it.
There's something on the line for both of these guys, but while the worst-case scenario for Casilla includes being claimed on waivers as a 25-year old with something to prove, for Jones there is nothing else. He turns 35 in less than a month, is four years removed from being Jacque-as-Jacque, three years removed from being a decent player and just two years removed from not playing his last game in Major League Baseball.
Jones knows what this is, so do the Twins and so do we. Latching onto the team who drafted you is a last resort. That isn't to say Jacque doesn't want to be here (because he does) or that the Twins don't want him here (because they do), but it is what it is.
What makes this such a great story, and what makes it compelling to talk about, is the fact that he's part of the core that helped turn Minnesota back into a competetive club, and the fact that he's playing as well as he is. It wouldn't be convenient, but he's forcing the organization to at least think about his role. The same organization that isn't exactly enamored with Casilla right now.
Jacque has to force the team's hand in order to make the trip north. It won't happen unless the team think it's the right thing to do. But if it does happen? That would be a great story.
And it's hard not to root for Jacque.