There’s always room for Punto.

Or have you heard it phrased differently? In everyday speech, there’s always room for a lot of things, but in the Twins lineup, the default answer has been Nick Punto. His fun-sized little body has been wedged into the team and into the lineup consistently for the last five years, averageing 463 plate appearances – and a .249 batting average.  How has this happened?

Well, there's a secret, and like the very best secrets it's right in front of your face. Just go to Google, type in "There's always room for" and you'll see the secret of Punto's success.

There’s always room at the top.

Fairly recently, it happened because Nick Punto was close to the top of his profession for a brief time, provided you believe his profession was shortstop. The Twins are often criticized for dedicating $8.5M over two years to Punto last offseason, but they forget that the rest of the free agent market was Lilliputian by comparison. Don’t believe me? Check out this.

When the Twins signed Punto, he was a relatively young, relatively productive, and itsy-bitsy shortstop. And that fit well into the Twins lineup….

There’s always room for a little one here.

Up until Opening Day. Because Opening Day was followed by two months of misery, both for Punto and the Twins.  He started slow, hitting .228 in April, and then really kicked it into low gear.  A .152-hitting May ended mercifully early when he hurt his dimuntive little groin and was put on the disabled list. And thus ended the “Punto as shortstop” experiment.  But not his time in the lineup, because…

There’s always room for jello

Why? Because it’s versatile, yummy, and can fit into tiny odd spaces, just like Nick. And judging by just how frequently Ron Gardenhire favored him, it likely also compliments cherry extract.

As soon as Punto came off the DL, he was handed another job – second base. Alexi Casilla had the job in April, Matt Tolbert had it in May, and Punto started manning it on June 12th. He held onto it for 10 days – and then got hurt again. But then he got it back again, holding onto it until the All-star break.

At which point, Joe Crede was hurt, so Brendan Harris moved to third and Punto got to play shortstop again for two weeks – until Orlando Cabrera joined the team.

But there was still room for Punto.  It was announced that he and Casilla would platoon at second base, but over the next 20 days there was only six that Punto didn’t start, and two of those were because he was playing third base instead.

And then a strange thing happened: Punto sat on the bench for almost 11 days. Casilla caught fire, got all the starts at second base through the end of the month, and Punto was forced to make a couple of spot utility player starts at shortstop and third base. For the only time last season, Punto wasn’t visibly hurt AND was sitting on the bench.

But there’s no way that Gardenhire was going to keep Punto’s adorable little glove out of the lineup for long.  After the first day of September, Punto was handed the job at second base, starting all but three games until the end of the year.

There’s always room for one more

Unless, of course, that player bumps Punto from the lineup. La Velle E Neal is reporting that the Twins could get back at least half of Joe Nathan’s $11.25 million salary from insurance, and there are still plenty of options available to make this team better. Other than trading for another reliever, the top fit is a familiar name: third baseman Crede, who played stellar defense while hitting 15 home runs in about half a season for the Twins last year.

Signing Crede would push Punto to utility player, where he would be backing up – well, everyone. None of the other guys in the infield are free of injury concerns, and it looks like Punto could be the backup for Denard Span, too. That’s the role that Punto should have. And while the Twins and Gardenhire has worked hard to find space for him in the past, they shouldn’t forget…

There’s always room for improvement

This Weekend

I received all kinds of good news about the new Maple Street Press 2010 Twins Annual on Monday. First, it sold out in two days in Fort Myers spring training games. Second, Barnes and Noble live sales say it's sales are “very strong”. Finally, we received a couple of great reviews. And the best news of all is that you can get a free copy....

This Saturday, Seth, Nick, Parker and myself are hosting a TwinsCentric Twins Viewing Party at Major’s in Apple Valley. We’ll be watching the Twins beat the Phils on TV, and there will be specials on appetizers and pints. Plus we’ll give away door prizes each inning. And those prizes include copies of the Annual.

Personally, I could not be more giddy about this. I’ve been waiting since October for a good baseball get-together, and since I’m not making it to Fort Myers this spring, it looked like I was going to need to wait a month longer. No more. I would like nothing better than to plan my butt on a bar stool and talk (argue?) baseball for 12 hours. It could happen. So please, figure out a way to join us.

Which brings me to my favorite comment of the day, which didn’t happen here or on, but rather on my Twitter. MrHorrorPants asked:

“So we just hit Majors and start talkin' Twins with the Twinscentrics? And this WON'T lead to restraining orders?”

Answer: I never said it wouldn’t lead to us pursuing restraining orders. I’m almost sure Seth, with his large female following, has been forced to become familiar with that process already. But for Saturday, we’ll chance it.

If you're looking for more from the TwinsCentric crew, you could also stop by...

  • Seth links to a Top 10 List of Twins blogs
  • Parker wonders if we should have anticipated Nathan's injury.
  • And Nick takes a look at the Twins first basemen.