“Relative to the players he’s replacing” is the important part of that sentence, because at first glance Jamey Carroll isn’t much to look at, stats-wise or otherwise (he’s a scrawny 5’9” with eyes so wide-set he looks like Rango, which I hereby nominate as his new nickname). Carroll is a career utility infielder who came up with the Expos, made a short-lived splash with the Rockies, spent a little time in Cleveland, and underwent a late-career resurgence in 2010 and 2011 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s a fine fielder, though he turns 38 next week so his range likely isn’t getting any better. He gets on base, but also hits for so little power that there’s a real chance that he’ll never hit a homerun in a Twins uniform despite the team giving him a two-year contract and a starting job as their everyday shortstop out of the gate.
Aside from what I can only assume is a 180-degree range of vision, Carroll’s main asset is what he isn’t—namely, the players he replaces, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Trevor Plouffe (whose last name rhymes with “oof”—onomatopoeia for what it sounds like to watch Trevor Plouffe play shortstop). Which is to say he can field a groundball cleanly and throw it from shortstop to first base, both big steps up from his predecessors. The fact that he walks nearly as often as he strikes out and finagles his way to first base 35 times out of every 100 plate appearances is merely gravy.
Carroll can play a variety of positions—he even plays some outfield, though you’ve got to be in pretty rough shape to trot him out there these days—with decent enough defense, and he gets on base at a high-enough clip to warrant batting him second, where his right-handed bat falls neatly between lefties Denard Span and Joe Mauer. His versatility means he can play second, which is nice considering you really never know what you’re going to get from Alexi Casilla, as well as third, which is also nice because ditto Danny Valencia. I’m sure the Twins will also have all kinds of nice things to say about his “veteran presence” as well, if you care about those things. Just remember, they said the same things about Tony Batista.
Barring injuries—I know, hilarious!—Carroll will spend most of his time at shortstop, and most of the things you’ll hear about him throughout the season will be in the key of “he battles his tail off” and “he really gets after it,” Mr. Gardenhire’s favorite attributes in a ballplayer, particularly skinny, light-hitting middle infielders (his favorite type of ballplayer as they all remind his own playing days).
So: He’s Punto with bat skills. And he’s a goofy looking dude–all baseball teams need one of those. Not bad for $3.5 million per year while he warms the shortstop gig for Brian Dozier, the hot-ish prospect most likely to assume the position in 2013. And if Dozier flames out, hey, there will probably be another aging, no-power veteran shortstop on the free-agent market to plug that hole. The good news: Punto himself is slated to be a 37-year-old free agent when Carroll contract expires. Twins fans, I’m sure, are counting the days.