Remember opening day 2002 in Kansas City? On the surface, it was just any other beginning to a season. It brought the same luster and promise that the beginning of any new season brings.
Another year of baseball had arrived, and win or lose, there is nothing better than those 162 days of summer.
2002 brought extra promise because 2001 had featured the first winning Twins team since John Smiley toed the rubber and Chili Davis was still cool. (Back when we thought he was just a guy with a cool name instead of, you know, a wife beater.)
So while we thought there might be something special about 2002 before a batter had even stepped to the plate, we knew there was something special about 2002 as soon as the first batter crossed home plated and slapped hands with Cristian Guzman.
The batter was Jacque Jones and he had just finished yanking the second pitch of the season over the right field fence for a patented leadoff home run.
That’s one of those random home runs, and one of those random moments in general, that I will never forget, because it was at that exact moment that I was 100% certain 2002 would be a special year for the Twins. They weren’t just a silly aberration, but a legitimate baseball team.
2002 is, of course, a long time ago, and Jones isn’t nearly the player he was back then. And as he continues to suit up in Spring Training for his Minnesota homecoming, looking back on the nostalgia of years past does nobody any good in evaluating Jones’s current value to the Twins.
I mean we’re talking about a guy who played with the Newark Bears last year (with immortal teammates such as Shawn Chacon and Jay Gibbons).
I will be the first person to admit that I am a sentimental son of a bitch, and I am a sucker for random veteran signings, so bringing Jones in intrigued me from the beginning. I never thought he was a legitimate candidate for, well, almost anything, but I still thought, “hey, that’s fun” when the Twins signed him.
Sure, the question at the time was, “wait, why did the Twins just sign Jacque Jones?”
But it was still fun to consider the thought of him making the team.
Well, with one week of Spring Training left, the question has shifted from, “wait, why did the Twins just sign Jacque Jones?” to “wait, why aren’t the Twins playing Jacque Jones in centerfield?”
It has been well documented that the Twins don’t have anyone to back up Denard Span. And while I love getting denarded as much as the next guy, we all know that having guys play 162 games a year isn’t how the Twins roll.
Call me crazy, but I don’t really want to see Michael Cuddyer prowling center field, well, ever.
So far this spring, the only names that have been considered for the backup centerfield role are Matt Tolbert and Alexi Casilla. And, of course the aforementioned Cuddyer, who would shift over from right to patrol the center of Target Field on Span's off days.
The most frustrating part is that Jones has been playing well this spring. Yes, he is getting older, but at one point the Twins were debating whether Jones or Torii Hunter would be their centerfielder. I just find it hard to believe Jones doesn't have better range than Cuddyer. (Although he certainly doesn't have a better arm. If I had a nickel for every time Jones made a throw from rightfield that basically went straight into the ground...)
Look, I know that Casilla is out of options, and he still has some value (supposedly) so losing him to waivers isn't preferable, but isn't the goal fielding the best team? is having Alexi Casilla on the bench hitting .205 while trying to play a position he's never played before really the best option? The dude looks lost playing infield, and he's always played there.
Color me skeptical about Casilla mastering a new position.
And Tolbert? Really? Do I even need to say anything or can we all just simultaneously laugh and move on?
The fact is, Jones is the only hitter who has earned the last spot on the bench. The Twins need someone who can play centerfield occasionally, and, surprise, Jones is an outfielder. It seems so simple.
I know you can say, "but Jones can go down to AAA and Casilla can stay with the club. Jones will always be there to fall back." But I say, what has Casilla done to earn a spot on this roster?
He seems lazy and disinterested, and hit well for a couple of months two years ago. He plays terrible defense and does things that makes us all scream, "wait, what the fuck is he doing?" At this point, any talent he showed in the past has been overshadowed by his consistent inconsistencies.
I, for one, am ready to cut ties with Casilla. The first step to that process is giving Jones a chance to slide into centefielder and answer the question of who fills the final roster spot?