Image courtesy of Matt Marton, USA TodayIt started with Jason Castro, who netted a $25 million contract as a free agent despite a sub-.700 career OPS. The former Astro generated significant demand due largely to his receiving and framing capabilities. His upgrade behind the plate over Kurt Suzuki – whose $1.5 million deal with the last-place Braves, despite posting a better OPS than Castro in 2016, reflects the league's opinion of his defensive impact – is tough to overstate.
It's the biggest splash the Twins have made, but hardly their only effort to incrementally supplement a fielding unit that last year converted balls into outs at the league's worst rate.
Castro will likely be backed up – at least initially – by Chris Gimenez, a glove-first veteran backstop. He was brought in on a minor league contract with a spring invite, as was outfielder J.B. Shuck, another defensive specialist.
As another example, when the Twins opened negotiations with the Dodgers, they were reportedly targeting Cody Bellinger, who some believe "could be elite" with the mitt at first base. Of course, those trade talks fell through, leaving the club stuck with a grossly overmatched Jorge Polanco at shortstop. On Monday, the front office made a move to create a contingency for this potentially grave weakness.
The Twins claimed 27-year-old infielder Ehire Adrianza off waivers from Milwaukee. In order to make room, they designated right-hander Pat Light for assignment, meaning they may lose the asset they acquired only six months ago when they traded Fernando Abad.
Despite his .605 OPS in 331 big-league plate appearances – all with San Francisco – it isn't hard to see why Minnesota would take a liking to Adrianza. A majority of his 650 defensive innings with the Giants came at shortstop, where he rated extremely well. (His UZR/150, albeit in a VERY small sample size, is in Andrelton Simmons territory for whatever that's worth.)
Given what we saw from Polanco and Eduardo Escobar at the position last year, Adrianza may now be the only legitimate MLB shortstop on the 40-man roster aside from Engelb Vielma, the light-hitting 22-year-old with less than 100 games of experience above Single-A.
Don't discount the possibility of this new addition becoming a dark horse contender for the starting shortstop gig. If he outshines Polanco and Escobar enough in the field, the Twins may decide they can live with his offensive shortcomings at the bottom of a lineup that could realistically feature above-average production everywhere else.
With the way things played out in 2016, sacrificing defense for offense at one of the most crucial positions on the field is far from ideal, and there's no doubt the head decision-makers recognize this.
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