Old Twins Bartlett and Kubel hoping for second tour of duty
MINNEAPOLIS — Shortly after former Twins Jason Bartlett and Jason Kubel rejoined the fold with Minnesota this winter, they got a call from another Jason who also wanted in.
"After (Kubel) signed, which was after me, Jason Tyner called me and said, ‘What’s going on? Is this an Old Timer’s game? Do I need to pack my bag or what?’" Bartlett said. "That was funny. We have good memories here."
While the Twins didn’t bring back the 36-year-old Tyner, they did sign Bartlett and Kubel to minor-league deals with invitations to major league spring training. Bartlett spent the 2004-07 seasons with Minnesota before playing for Tampa Bay and San Diego. Kubel debuted with the Twins the same season as Bartlett and stayed in Minnesota through the 2011 season before signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Now both veterans are hoping to put their injury-plagued pasts behind them and prove themselves in Minnesota again. Bartlett missed the 2013 season after having surgery on his knee, while Kubel was also hobbled last season. The 31-year-old outfielder was limited to 97 total games with Arizona and Cleveland last year due to a leg injury that resulted in Kubel batting .216 with five homers and 32 RBI.
The Twins believe both veterans are healthy again, and they’re hoping both Bartlett and Kubel can still contribute at the major-league level.
"All they wanted was a chance, both of them," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.
Kubel expressed his interest for a second chance in Minnesota before the 2013 season even concluded. He was in town with Cleveland for the final series of the year and went over to talk to Gardenhire.
"He came by our office and I said, ‘Why aren’t you in this clubhouse?’" Gardenhire said. "He said, ‘Well, let’s talk over the winter.’ And we talked."
Those talks led to Kubel signing a minor-league contract, which doesn’t guarantee him a spot on the Twins’ 25-man roster out of camp. Yet Minnesota’s outfield situation remains in flux, as does the designated hitter role. Kubel could fill both of those voids by playing either left or right field while also spending time as a DH.
For a team that has struggled to score runs, Kubel’s bat could be a key addition — especially if he can produce like he did in 2012 with Arizona, where he hit 30 homers for the first time in his career.
"We need offense. We need guys, whether it’s coming off the bench, platooning, whatever. And we all know, if Kube gets hot he can carry you for a while," Gardenhire said. "He can carry a ballclub. I’m not saying he’s here to do that, but I think he’s going to be very valuable for us if he comes and proves that in spring training that he’s still good and healthy."
Bartlett last played in a major league game on May 14, 2012 with San Diego but missed the rest of 2012 and all of 2013 with a knee injury that needed surgery. At 34 years old, Bartlett won’t be the same player he was during his first stint with Minnesota when he batted .272/.341/.362 in 321 games over four years.
While he has spent his entire major league career as a shortstop, Bartlett knows he might have to embrace the role of a utility infielder if he hopes to make the team. Brian Dozier is essentially a lock at second base, while Pedro Florimon appears to be the favorite at shortstop. If the Twins take Bartlett north to start the year, it could be to back up Florimon and Dozier.
"Dozier, numbers-wise, I saw he had a good year, but I haven’t seen him play. And the shortstop, Florimon, I know he can pick it, so obviously if they have a good spring then they’ll get the job," Bartlett said. "But other than Dozier, I think the other ones are up in the air. With the year Dozier had, I think he earned that starting job. But I’m going in to try to start. Whether I come out of camp a utility, so be it. But I feel good."
This past weekend wasn’t the first TwinsFest for either player, but it certainly felt different. Even Kubel, who played here as recently as 2011, said he didn’t know about 85 of the other players in town this weekend.
As both Kubel and Bartlett head down to Fort Myers next month to battle for roster spots, they’ll be reminded of their first spring trainings with the Twins a decade ago.
"I feel like a rookie again," Bartlett said. "I don’t know too many people here, other than the two veterans in this clubhouse and the clubbies. It’s a different feeling, but it’s exciting to be back."
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