Trio of vets looks to reclaim past glory in Minnesota
Bartlett, Guerrier, Kubel, who debuted with Twins in '04, are back to win roster spots
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When Jason Bartlett looks around the clubhouse at Hammond Stadium, he doesn't see too many familiar faces.
Of the players on the Twins' 40-man roster, only Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins remain from Bartlett's time with the Twins from 2004-07, before he was traded to the Rays.
But Bartlett isn't alone as a non-roster invitee trying to reclaim past glory with the Twins, as he's joined by designated hitter/outfielder Jason Kubel and reliever Matt Guerrier.
All three players made their Twins debut in 2004, and are eyeing roster spots a decade later on a young team trying to climb back from three forgettable seasons that saw them lose at least 96 games each year.
"It's pretty cool that we we've all been around that long and we've come back where we started," Bartlett said. "But I still get calls from guys like [Jason] Tyner, and he asks if it's an Old-Timers' Game."
So while Bartlett, 34, jokes about his age, he's serious about snagging a roster spot as a utility player this spring after not playing baseball last year due to knee surgery in May of 2012.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he plans on using Bartlett all over the diamond this spring, and he'll see action in both the infield and the outfield.
"He's healthy, and that's kind of what we are hoping for," Gardenhire said. "He knows all the drills. He knows how to play. He's so much different than the first time he was in Major League camp. He's a veteran now -- been there and done it."
But of the three, Kubel is the most likely to make the roster. The Twins are counting on him to bring some much-needed left-handed power, after he had a down year in '13 that saw a strained left quad derail his season.
Kubel, who left the Twins after the 2011 season to sign a two-year, $15 million deal with the D-backs, had a big first year in Arizona in '12, hitting .253/.327/.506 with 30 homers, 30 doubles and 90 RBIs in 141 games, but he hit just .216/.293/.317 with five homers, eight doubles and 32 RBIs in 97 games with the D-backs and Indians last year.
But Kubel, 31, is healthy now and has a strong chance to make the roster as a designated hitter and part-time outfielder.
"I'm over all the injuries and stuff," Kubel said. "I'm just looking forward to starting over again. I started out fine and then got hurt early. It never really healed, and I never really got back after that. It was my left quad. It stayed around all year. So I think that's gone. Actually, I know that it's gone. Hopefully, I'll just stay healthy."
Guerrier, 35, is more of a wild card, as he's coming off surgery in mid-August to repair the flexor mass in his right elbow. The Twins are taking it easy with him in camp, as he's yet to throw a live bullpen session, and he's just now starting to work in his breaking ball.
Guerrier was a dependable reliever during his time with the Twins, posting a 3.38 ERA in seven seasons before departing via free agency on a three-year, $12 million deal with the Dodgers after 2010. His time in Los Angeles, however, was marred by injuries, and he had a 4.24 ERA while throwing just 110 1/3 innings over 2 1/2 seasons.
He's likely to miss the first 10 days of Grapefruit League play, but hopes to be ready for the season -- whether he needs a stint at Triple-A Rochester or shows enough to make the trip north with the big league club.
"I'm just trying to stay healthy and that's the biggest thing for me," Guerrier said. "I felt comfortable coming into camp, wherever it may be, that if I were healthy, I'd have a good chance. So the biggest thing was coming in healthy. So hopefully, I'll get a couple appearances in games and go from there."
For now, the Twins are happy to have all three veterans around to help lead the younger players in camp. Kubel and Guerrier both saw action in the postseason in three different years with the Twins, while Bartlett played in the '06 postseason with the Twins and again '08 and '10 with the Rays.
"Those guys know how to win. They're winners," Mauer said. "They've won here, moved on to other places and won. Bartlett in Tampa, so it's good to see those guys back here. Hopefully, they can help us win here."
Gardenhire said that all three players being around winning clubs throughout their careers was a reason for bringing them aboard this offseason.
"We talked about that during the winter -- we need to bring some attitudes in here that know how to win and know how to play," Gardenhire said. "And not only go out and get it done themselves, but also know what it takes and to be able to go out and help the other guys. So we'll see how it breaks down. It's why these guys are here. They know how to win. They know how to play. They can help you. Hopefully, they'll get it done here in Spring Training. We'll see what happens. That makes it tough for us to make decisions. We brought them in here for a reason."