Plouffe and player needs

Got into a short Twitter discussion with Nick Nelson yesterday regarding this list of Twins players who will be playing winter ball. Nick's comment:

According to @LaVelleNeal, the #Twins asked Trevor Plouffe to play winter ball this year and he declined. Hard to understand that...

I responded:

If your boss asked you to go to Venezuela for three months, what would you say?

Turns out that Twitter isn't the best place to try to communicate a multi-layered argument, so my later responses weren't all that illuminating. I'll explain better what I mean below the jump.

Nick's point is that plenty of players do agree to go to winter ball, and that not doing so might be a problem for Plouffe, given that he's not yet an established major-leaguer. My support for Plouffe's decision runs along two general lines:

1. General issues with just doing what the team tells you.

The past few seasons, and this past season in particular, has done a lot to illuminate the idea that maybe a big-league team doesn't always know what's in the best interest of their players. Mysteriously misdiagnosed ailments, curious decisions on when to demote a player to AAA and when to bring him back to the major league club, shuffling players between positions seemingly heedless of whether or not the player has the skillset to contribute at that position. A lot of people have commented that the Twins seemed clueless under Bill Smith, and frankly, I don't see that as being just a Bill Smith thing -- it's a system for the Twins, so if the system is clueless, why listen to it?

More importantly, just because a player chooses not to play winter ball doesn't mean that player isn't still working out, keeping in shape, or doing things to improve his game

The counter to that is that the system decides what your future is, and if the system wants you to go to winter ball, you generally do that, which is a point that Nick tried to make in response to mine. That brings up the more specific line:

2. Plouffe is in a position where playing winter ball doesn't really help him, professionally or financially

Plouffe was the starting SS for the Twins for nearly the entire last month of 2011. Granted, the Twins didn't win a whole lot during that stretch, but then again they didn't win a whole lot at all in 2011. Indications are that Plouffe may well be considered the #1 guy in the depth chart at SS right now; he's certainly ahead of Alexi Casilla, and may even be ahead of Nishioka given the latter's lack of arm strength. (What to do about Nishioka is going to be one of the hot topics of the 2011-2012 Hot Stove League.) If Plouffe really is the front-runner for SS, playing winter ball has a really good chance of hurting that status -- he might suffer an injury, or have a bad hitting stretch that raises questions about his offense, or otherwise do something to harm that status. Staying home and working out does none of that.

More to the point, the Twins ask players to play winter ball specifically because they don't *pay* them to play winter ball -- playing on a winter league team isn't terribly lucrative, and I imagine players who don't already have a situation in a winter league country (such as Liriano playing in a Dominican winter league, where he's basically going home) may end up paying for the privilege. I suspect that's another reason Plouffe declined to travel.

And if the Twins decide that Plouffe's refusal to play winter ball is grounds for letting him move on, well, Plouffe's still a former top-20 draft pick, and it's likely some other organization will at least take a rider on him. Plouffe's career is far from over if the Twins give up on him.

Those are really the points I was shooting to make, only trying to do so 140 characters at a time.

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