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Updated: March 31st, 2012 9:54am
Mackey: Gardenhire, Ryan officially put end to 'scholarship' program

Mackey: Gardenhire, Ryan officially put end to 'scholarship' program

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by Phil Mackey

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Two of the worst offensive players in baseball last season batted a combined 494 times for the Minnesota Twins:

Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who hit .226/.278/.249 with just five extra-base hits, and Drew Butera, who hit .167/.210/.239.

Butera, in fact, became just the sixth player since 1980 with at least 200 plate appearances in a season to post an OPS below .450.

With the news of Butera's Triple-A demotion coming Saturday morning, it's official that neither player will break camp on the 25-man roster.

And in retrospect, manager Ron Gardenhire may have foreshadowed these two roster moves on March 2.

"We're going to try to fit our team," Gardenhire said nearly a month ago. "We're away from the scholarships. No more scholarships because we don't have anybody else. You earn it, or you don't earn it. Scholarship program's out."

Referring also to minor leaguers who were rushed to the big leagues out of necessity, Gardenhire added, "Sometimes you're forced because that's all you have on the roster. Well, everybody's going to earn it. That's all we're going to do, and I think everybody wants it that way."

Nishioka's "scholarship," so to speak, comes in the form of a $9 million guaranteed contract and $15 million overall commitment.

Butera's "scholarship" had nothing to do with money -- he has earned just over $800,000 since 2010 -- but he's been on the 25-man roster for two full seasons and hasn't spent any time at Triple-A since 2009.

Irrelevant, as general manager Terry Ryan hinted on February 26.

"Yeah, he's a fine (defensive) catcher, he's a fine thrower, he calls a good game," Ryan said. "He works behind the plate; pitchers like to throw to him. ...

"(But) he hit .167. We'd love to have somebody take that job and we wouldn't have to worry about it for the next five years. We've got to have some production from the backup catcher. ... (Butera's) numbers weren't good enough. He's got to do better than that.

Ryan added, "It's the same with Nishi. We had to go out and get a shortstop because we didn't have anyone that picked up the ball enough. What do you expect?"

Tasked with fixing a 99-loss team, Ryan said earlier this spring that he didn't care how much money a player makes or how long that player has held onto a roster spot. The best players would play. Feelings didn't matter.

Fans had a right to be skeptical at first.

But it appears as if the "scholarships" have officially been revoked.

"Drew Butera's a pretty good catcher/thrower/receiver/teammate, all that stuff," Ryan said in February, "but we've got to get more. We've got to get more than that. We got to get him to either swing the bat, be able to move runners, coax a walk, keep the chains moving as I like to say. Just keep the chains moving, that's all."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd