Tom Powers / St. Paul Pioneer Press, Published March 04 2014
Powers: This time around, Bartlett just wants a job
Bartlett was a good fielder at shortstop, a solid hitter and a threat on the bases. In fact, he was one of the original Twins piranhas that plagued Ozzie Guillen’s Chicago White Sox in the mid-2000s. But Bartlett wouldn’t yell “fire” if his pants were in flames.
So Ron Gardenhire called him in and told him he needed to go back to Triple-A and work on, well, being loud.
“Yeah, I remember all that,” Bartlett said with chuckle. “His words were: ‘Barty, I want you to go down and be more vocal. Take control of the infield!’ ”
Bartlett was the Twins’ top shortstop in 2005, 2006 and 2007. By that final year, he was loud, proud and effective.
The Twins appeared set at the position for the next decade. And then, on Nov. 11, 2007, Bill Smith, in one of his first acts as general manager, traded Bartlett and Matt Garza to Tampa Bay for Delmon Young and Brendan Harris.
That resulted in a behind-the-scenes firestorm within the organization. Gardenhire argued against the trade and was unhappy that the deal was made. It’s been a sore spot for years. As it turned out, the transaction created a black hole at shortstop that still hasn’t been filled. In the six years since the trade, the Twins have had six different primary shortstops: Nick Punto, Orlando Cabrera, J.J. Hardy, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Brian Dozier and Pedro Florimon.
Meanwhile, that move solidified the Rays, who went directly to the World Series in 2008.
“I always tell people that it worked out great for me,” Bartlett said. “And Delmon had that one good year here, right?”
Don’t get me going, Jason.
Bartlett is back in Twins camp trying to earn a job after sitting out a year and a half with a bad knee. He has more baseball gloves in his locker than most sporting goods shops have on their shelves. Always a pure shortstop, Bartlett now is getting work all over the place. Tuesday, he took grounders at first base. That made it all four infield positions for him this spring. Plus, he’s taking fly balls in the outfield.
Florimon is considered the Twins’ No. 1 shortstop. Now, Florimon couldn’t hit the ground if he fell out of an airplane, but he is very impressive in the field and is a threat to run in those rare instances in which he reaches first base. He also recently had his appendix removed and is behind here at camp.
Bartlett, 34, appears to be battling Eduardo Escobar for a utility job. But Florimon’s health may create a bit more of an opening. At this point, however, Bartlett is probably a long shot to make the team.
“If I can just show I can still play, I do have an out at the end of the spring,” Bartlett said. “I’m sure some team might need a shortstop or a backup shortstop or a utility guy. I want to be here. But I’m not just playing for this team right now. I’m looking for a job.”
He says his knee feels fine after the doctors shoveled out a bunch of loose cartilage last year.
“I thought I was done,” he said. “After I had the surgery, I just started working out. I was running a lot with my wife. And I came to realize that, wow, that pain in my knee hasn’t come back. I started playing tennis and all this stuff I wasn’t doing before because it always hurt my knee. I started to think I could play again.
“I told my agent to make some phone calls. I told him: the Twins or the Rays. If they give me a chance, I want to go do it.”
The baseball community is very tight. Not only have the veteran Twins welcomed him back, so have players from opposing teams.
“The first game was against the Red Sox and seeing Jonny Gomes and Big Papi, they were like, ‘Hey, where you been?’ ” Bartlett said. “In here, it’s just like old times. Same clubhouse guys, same coaches.”
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