How Does Nishioka's Release Affect Infield Depth for 2013?

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Mostly, it just removes one of the options we didn't really want to have.

There was class in Nishioka asking for his release, and I really believe that. It must have been hard for a guy to have the level of success that he did in Japan, then come to America and be incredibly overwhelmed. You know he wanted to play the game and play well. Players have pride in what they do.

None of which means we necessarily wanted him to take the field for the Twins in 2013. His place on the roster would have likely meant that, at some point, he would have been forced into action. Now that this option is off the table, here are your middle infield options on the 40-man roster for next season.

Alexi Casilla

Casilla is up for his third and final year of arbitration. He's taken another step back offensively, posting his worst triple slash for a season where he's been granted more than 300 plate appearances. In spite of this, FanGraphs still has Casilla at a full win above replacement. At a shade under $1.4 million this season, and due for a raise through arbitration, it's still probably in the Twins' best interest to tender Casilla a contract this winter. He's their longest-tenured infielder, and to be honest there isn't anyone else available who is definitively better.

Jamey Carroll

Carroll has, in spite of his slow start, put together a season that we might have expected. He's currently batting .265 with a .340 on-base percentage, and his defense has actually inflated his value more than Casilla's by awarding him 2.3 wins above replacement. He has positive UZR/150 ratings at all three left-side infield positions. While it's probably in his and the team's best interest to not start everyday, as has always been the case, he's been well worth his contract this season and is more than capable of being a spot starter and backup infielder in 2013.

Trevor Plouffe

Plouffe has incredible pull power, but he's also been exposed this season. After his torrid pace and stint on the disabled list he's slowed considerably, and his triple slash has taken a dip. In spite of his 23 home runs he's now slugging just .445 (Joe Mauer is slugging .454, FACT), and has accumulated 0.7 wins above replacement. That power is nice, but there are still some steps he needs to take. I'm sure he'll get the third base job out of spring training, barring something unforeseen, but that's far from a guaranteed spot.

Pedro Florimon

As a slap hitter (57.4% ground ball rate, and I don't buy into his 20.2% line drive rate) he doesn't possess the elite speed of a guy like Ben Revere to help off-set his batted ball type. Even as a player who has made some very attractive plays in the field, his defensive metrics don't do him any favors: -9.6 UZR/150, -1.9 fielding runs, .727 RZR. On the plus side he's inexpensive, and he's younger than the options above. While he's easily replaceable, at least he's not being paid millions.

Eduardo Escobar

One of the four youngest players on the 40-man roster, Escobar's birth year is 1989 (along with Deolis Guerra, Liam Hendriks, and fellow trade target Pedro Hernandez). While there isn't much we can glean from 136 plate appearances, he's been strong defensively at third and short. This includes his time with the White Sox, but with his experience we need the samples. If anything, Escobar is a threat to Florimon's chances of playing time with the Twins. Neither guy can hit, but Escobar's defensive metrics are solid and his reputation is a currency in some countries.

Brian Dozier

Dozier has reclaimed his presence in the Dark Horse camp. Ignoring whether or not he should have been with the Twins in September, he has the most offensive upside of any player on this list...as moderate as that is. With another year of baseball experience, will he be ready to resume the role of everyday shortstop next April? I really get the sense that he'll have to show something special, lest he be on even ground with a defensive specialist like Escobar.

Conclusion

These are all options we've seen this season. Are there other players in the wings? Yes, but none of them are guaranteed to be as good as our current modest options, and if any of them are going to step up then the Twins will need to find a spot for them on the 40-man roster.

Nishioka's departure just leaves us with more of the same...but at least it's one more roster spot to work with.

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