Terry Ryan kept himself busy this off-season avoiding arbitration left and right, signing a handful of key young players to long-term contracts and bringing in a couple of seasoned professionals. But despite having a productive winter, the decision to bring back Twins former backup catcher Matthew LeCroy is simply baffling.
The Twins’ power-hitting prospect-gone-sour was absent from the Twins for a mere season playing with the Washington Nationals in 2006. Out East LeCroy hit .239 with two home runs and nine RBIs in 39 games, and his defensive skills didn’t fair much better. We all remember reading about National’s Manager Frank Robinson pulling LeCroy from behind the plate after allowing seven stolen bases in six innings, accompanied by two throwing errors.
After the 2005 season, despite hitting 17 home runs and 50 RBIs in 2005, the Twins decided it wasn’t going to work out with LeCroy as the DH or backup catcher. His six-year career with the Twins had been mediocre at best, so what has changed this time around and why are fans so enthralled with LeCroy? Did he hit some grand slams I am unaware of? Did we really miss him last season?
Surprisingly, fans and teammates alike have welcomed LeCroy with open arms as a clubhouse favorite. Star Tribune sports reporter Jim Souhan dedicated a column praising LeCroy’s return, calling him a morale booster and one of the “selfless, prank-playing good guys who populate big-league benches.”
Yet last season, several clubhouse pranksters became new fan favorites: Nicky Punto with his green Speedo; Mike Redmond with his nude table dancing; Cuddyer’s magic tricks; Torii’s consistently suspicious grin; the piranhas, and we all know the entire bullpen knows how to have a good time. (Let us not forget the unattractive rookie initiation that had Pat Neshek dining out in fishnet stockings.)
It is not as if the Twins’ clubhouse is in need of more pranksters, or morale boosters, for that matter. Hunter is guaranteed to fire up the bench with a triumphant speech that lights a fire under the pinstripe pants; Santana is the leader of our team, carrying the rest of the Twins and their statistical baggage on his shoulders every fifth game.
Maybe the source of my confusion rests in the nightmare flashbacks I have of LeCroy striking out with the bases loaded and hitting dribblers up the line instead of doubles down the line. (Although he did hit a triple once, in 2002, and made the fans and media wonder the next morning whether Al Newman had strategically placed a cupcake on the base to entice LeCroy’s sprinting skills out of the woodwork.)
Signing LeCroy is charity instead of strategy. Minnesota is where he has played six of his soon-to-be eight seasons; he is familiar with Twins Territory and is surrounded by fans and players that don’t care that he, for all intents and purposes, can not master or even effectively handle any part of the game. But it’s okay, right, because LeCroy’s a clubhouse favorite.
Battle For the DH
Other candidates vying for the Twins’ DH spot are Ken Harvey and Jason Kubel. Toss LeCroy into the mix and all three candidates are coming off of poor seasons. We know what happened in Washington with LeCroy, but Ken Harvey has been out of the game since May 22, 2005, because of recurring back problems. And though he was given more than three times the at bats as his first season, Jason Kubel did not show much development last year. In two years he has hit only ten home runs, six of them coming in a two-week stretch.
Now guess who Kubel resembles in more ways than one: stocky, quiet farm-boy type, not known for his defensive skills, expected to develop barrels of power. Sound familiar? Kubel is going down the same path as LeCroy, already sidelined by nagging knee injuries in his young career.
However, despite the foreshadowing, Kubel should be named this year’s starting DH, if only because he is still young and his potential hasn’t entirely vanished. Whereas with LeCroy and Harvey, what you see in the stats box is pretty much as good as it’s going to get.