Jason Bartlett's comeback attempt after sitting out 2013 was a curiosity when Spring Training began. And when the NRI invite by the Minnesota Twins turned into a spring without any hits, the thought was the comeback attempt was doomed as much as Abreu's was with the Phillies. But despite a 3 for 36 spring, Bartlett has made the Twins!? This linked article describes the decision as due to Bartlett's flexibility and what he can add to the chemistry of the team. Are you buying that?
I, for one, am not. There are only two possibilities at work here. The first is that the Twins actually believe in this chemistry thing and, as the article linked above states, feel the team needs leadership to move forward or this reeks of a team helping an old friend reach his tenth year of Major League service thereby qualifying for the added retirement benefits such a milestone gives a player.
Let's look at the possibilities one at a time.
Let's say that the team is serious about this chemistry thing. The first thing this says is that the team does not believe in the leadership abilities of Joe Mauer and some of the other veterans. That makes Mauer and others a symptom of a "losing environment." Is that a fair assessment because the team has fallen on hard times? Is that a good message about Mauer and others?
How much stock is put in this "chemistry" or "leadership" thing? Can players who no longer have the ability to perform at a Major League level really respected by their teammates? Let's say you and me are working in a factory on an assembly line or something and one of our co-workers is a veteran of many years but can no longer keep up with the things we do. Do we respect that? Maybe. Maybe not.
Nobody predicts the Twins to make significant gains this season. The team may be a couple of years off from being competitive again. Does a stopgap "chemistry" guy like Bartlett make much difference in what will happen years from now? I cannot buy it or wrap my head around it.
I know from what many former players say that most believe that "good clubhouse guys" are a legitimate concept for players. But does that really mean anything? Kevin Millar was a great clubhouse guy for the Red Sox when he was producing. Did his shtick still mean the same when he was no longer able to produce? I don't think so.
Bartlett says that he learned about clubhouse dynamics from Torii Hunter. Didn't Hunter throw his ex-Twin teammates under the bus when he said they were afraid of the Yankees? I don't know. It seems to me that perhaps there is something to be said for veterans who can "police" a clubhouse. But leadership comes from the managers and coaches, or it should. Is Gardenhire the right guy for this current situation? Does Bartlett really help him if he can no longer contribute as a player?
Bartlett was not in the Majors last year because he career basically sank beneath the waves. After his one very good year in 2009, his career and wRC+ sank like a rock and his defense suffered toward the end too. You could blame his spring to rust after missing a year. But three singles in thirty-six plate appearances is perhaps more rust than can be scraped off.
My feeling is that all this talk is nice, but is a smokescreen for what is really happening here. Bartlett was sitting at home and at some point said to himself, "Hmm, I need another year to guarantee me $100,000 for a pension." He then called some old friends like Terry Ryan and said, "Hey, can I come to Spring Training?"
Ryan, needing all the help he could get took the flier and perhaps was complicit in his old friend's desire for one more year of service. I would not have trouble with any of that if Bartlett could still contribute. But I don't think he can. Perhaps I will be proven wrong and eat my words. If so, great for the Twins and good on Bartlett. But I wouldn't take a bet on it.
The bottom line for me has always been the same. Any team in question has a moral obligation to paying customers to put the best product out the team can. Whatever reason Jason Bartlett is on the team, whether it be as a "chemistry" teacher or as a guy getting a break to get his ten-year plateau in, is not fulfilling that obligation. That's just my two cents and a cup of coffee.
If Bartlett doesn't last more than a couple of months on the team before being jettisoned, then we will have our answer and it will stink a bit. Because a chemistry teacher needs more time than that if you believe in such things.