Word came out on Thursday that the Los Angeles Dodgers were looking to deal away Nick Punto. Shortly after this happened, the Twitter universe exploded across Twins Territory with thoughts of the former infielder returning to Minnesota. The Twins might need to add some depth at their middle infield positions and there has been plenty of talk about the club bringing in someone to push Trevor Plouffe for the starting job at third base. Punto could be the man to do both of these jobs.
Since he left the Twins following the 2010 campaign, he has made stops in St. Louis, Boston, and Los Angeles. He won the World Series with the Cardinals back in 2011 and he was part of the blockbuster trade last season between the Red Sox and the Dodgers. It seems that the Dodgers and their bloated payroll are trying to dump the scrappy infielder and the Twins could be a possible trade partner.
What could Punto add to the middle infield? Currently, the Twins have a quartet of players vying for the starting middle infield jobs in 2012. Pedro Florimon, Jamey Carroll, Brian Dozier, and Eduardo Escobar are in the mix at second base and shortstop. None of these names really stands out as a front runner and Punto's history with the club could give him the leg up in the competition.
He has experience at basically every infield position and this could make him a more intriguing utility man than Escobar. The thought of having Punto and Carroll at the top of the Twins line-up might be hard to swallow for some Twins fans but both of these players would be free agents after 2013. Punto is only due $1.5 million next season and the Twins have given him a lot more money than that to be mediocre for the club.
Is Punto the man to push Plouffe at third? Terry Ryan has talked all offseason about bringing in someone to challenge Trevor Plouffe for the starting job at third base. One of the most rumored names on the free agent market had been Jack Hannahan, a native of St. Paul. Unfortunately for the Twins, Hannahan just finalized a two-year deal for $2 million with the Reds. This took one name off of the Twins' list and it could mean that the team has more interest in Punto.
Punto played the most games of his career at third base for the Twins back in 2007. Last year, he made 31 appearances at third for the Red Sox and the Dodgers. His ability to make some spectacular defensive plays was one of his calling cards during his time with Minnesota. At age 35, it's easy to imagine that Punto might have lost a step or two. This could take away from some of his value as a defender.
What if Punto is on the decline? In recent years, Punto has struggled to stay healthy and on the playing field. He has averaged 79 games played since 2010. That followed a stretch of five seasons where he averaged over 124 games played. There can be plenty of bumps and bruises that will stick with a player longer in his 30s than in his 20s. All of those things seem to be adding up for Punto to make him a frequent visitor to the disabled list.
Going into last season, Punto was a career .249/.325/.327 hitter but those numbers took a dive in 2012. He ended the season hitting .219/.321/.281 with only eight extra-base hits to his name. Those were his lowest totals since 2003 when he played in 64 games for the Phillies. Obviously there is some decline with players as they age but it might be too late for Punto to have a resurgent year.
The Twins have plenty of Punto-type players on the roster so it might be a fools errand to bring him back for a return trip with the Twins. That being said, Ron Gardenhire loved him some Nicky Punto when he was here. If Gardenhire is in his last season as Twins manager, maybe the club will wrap him up a Punto present for the holidays.