Late in Sunday's game against the Rays, the Twins reached their breaking point with Brian Dozier.
With the game tied and runners on the corners for Tampa in the 10th inning, the rookie shortstop scooped up a ground ball and took the sure out at first rather than throwing home to cut down the go-ahead run or attempting a tough inning-ending double play.
After the game, Ron Gardenhire seemed to let Dozier off the hook:
"I talked with him about what his thoughts were and he had good thoughts," Gardenhire said. "He knew the runners and the speed at third base. All we talked was situational baseball late in the game like that. Your two options are to try to turn the double play in my opinion or go home. But he had good thoughts. He got kind of screened by the runner after he caught the ball so that was his play. I just want to know his thoughts on the play. He's out there. We're not. Everybody has an opinion on where he should've thrown the ball.
"But I'm going to back my player here. He did what he thought was right. He saw the speed, the whole package and got the out at first base. He's the one out there playing the game."
And yet, Dozier sat on Monday. He sat again on Tuesday, and after the game it was announced he'd been demoted to Triple-A, with Pedro Florimon (and his .654 OPS in Rochester) coming up to replace him on the roster.
It's a perplexing strategy for the Twins. Dozier will almost certainly be back up when rosters expand in September, making this a two-week demotion. How much good can that really do?
At the same time, Dozier has been roundly awful for a full three months, so the move is easily justifiable. The only reasons he's lasted this long are because Gardenhire fiercely supports him and because he may be the organization's only hope for an internal solution at shortstop next year. Unfortunately, even those factors couldn't protect him after committing 15 errors (most for any AL shortstop despite the fact that he's only played in 84 games) while hitting .234/.271/.332, including .152/.237/.273 after what appeared to be a breakout three-hit game in Boston on August 2nd.
Only one qualifying player in the majors (Justin Smoak) has a worse OPS than Dozier. In addition to his league-leading error total, he's had a number of misplays in the field – including Sunday's questionable and costly decision – that don't show up on the stat sheet. His plate discipline, which was a primary strength in the minors, has been dreadful, as he's drawn only 16 walks against 58 strikeouts in 340 plate appearances.
Granted, the 25-year-old showed a few positive signs, namely some home run power and base-stealing proclivity, but this was an overwhelmingly discouraging major-league debut. At this point it's extremely difficult to look at him as a realistic starting option for next year. He just doesn't have any substantial strength to fall back on.
Being sent to Triple-A after struggling in a major-league stint has been known to help young players in the past – look no further than Chris Parmelee for a recent example – and we can only hope that will happen here.
But when you consider that Dozier was given an incredibly long leash, isn't all that young and was never an exceptional prospect to begin with, it's pretty tough to dismiss his initial struggles as a fluke. More than likely, he'll be another suspect among many others vying for a middle infield spot next year.
Just another passenger on Minnesota's never-ending shortstop carousel.