He has been the little engine that could for the Twins franchise over their recent run of division championships. He has played every position from 3B, SS, 2B, OF, and even DH. Nick Punto has seem to embody the heart and soul of the Twins team in the Piranha Era. He has hustled and played outstanding defense while not hitting for a high average.
The Twins declined to pick up Punto's $5 million dollar option for the 2011 season. From a financial standpoint this was a very good move for the Twins. Punto is not a $5 million player. As a free agent he could make a very reasonable option for a team off the bench in a part-time role. Considering all of that there is a very real possibility that Punto could end up in another jersey for next season.
Ron Gardenhire has expressed interest in Punto returning for next season. He has even gone as far as to ask the front office to offer Punto a contract for next season. This was really no surprise since Gardenhire has seemed to have a man-crush on Punto over the last few seasons. Gardy has turned to Punto every time he has needed a spot filled in the infield even when other choices might have offered more upside.
One team that has expressed interest in the services of Punto is the Cleveland Indians. As a fellow AL Central club the Indians have seen Punto a lot over the course of the last half of a decade. The are also in the market for some cheap options to complete their roster. There is a chance that Punto would be offered the starting 3B job in Cleveland.
The 3B position in Minnesota, barring any injury, will not be available next season. Danny Valencia surged on to the scene last season and took the starting spot away from Punto. The middle infield situation seems to be one of the concerning areas for the Twins entering next season. New Twin Tsuyoshi Nishioka will be manning one of the middle infield positions. The other spot seems to be Alexi Casilla's to lose. Having Punto as a back-up option would be a solid addition to the bench but there are cost limits involved with offering him a contract.
If other teams, such as Cleveland, are going to be offering Punto the type of money a starting infielder is due then he should do what is best for himself and leave the Twins. If he wants to enter Spring Training with a chance to fight for a middle infield position but not have a starting job that is guaranteed to be his, then returning to the Twins could be an option. A return to the Twins would have to mean a discounted contract for the 2011 season.
His head first slides into first base might have become a trademark at the Metrodome and Target Field but his time with the Twins might slowly be coming to an end.
If this is goodbye Mr. Punto, then thanks for the memories.