Twins Tales Up the Middle
Image courtesy of © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY SportsJorge Polanco is currently the acting Minnesota shortstop. In 664 innings at shortstop in 2018 he was worth -1 DRS with a -3.9 UZR and a 1.4 RngR. Those numbers are all far better than the abomination he was during just 406 innings at short in 2016, but they are a step backward from the 2017 version of Polanco. Whether one understands defensive metrics or not, Minnesota’s current shortstop has a poor arm and limited range. Playing deep in the hole is hardly an option, and it leaves the infield's most important position significantly exposed.
The good news is that Polanco profiles as an average to above-average second basemen. His arm would play just fine there, and range factor is less demanding on the right side of the diamond. It’s a role he had essentially been pushed into during the latter part of his minor league career, and only moved back to short as the Twins already had Brian Dozier manning second.
When addressing their needs this offseason, I’d imagine the Twins would prefer not to punt on middle-infield defense entirely. Whether at second base or at shortstop, some sort of glove-first player makes sense. The only other option would be to choose some sort of middle-ground type player, with a bat-first emphasis, keeping Polanco where he is and banking on Royce Lewis being adept defensively for that role beginning in 2020.
Obviously when considering which path to choose the market factors come into play as well. There are only something like eight available shortstops while there is nearly double that number at second base. In trying to put some pegs into holes, here’s how I see some of those names categorized.
Manny Machado (SS)
Jose Iglesias (SS)
Freddy Galvis (SS)
D.J. LeMahieu (2B)
Ian Kinsler (2B)
Logan Forsythe (2B)
Jordy Mercer (SS)
Asdrubal Cabrera (2B)
Brian Dozier (2B)
Daniel Murphy (2B)
Daniel Descalso (2B)
Josh Harrison (2B)
Of the 12 names above, it’s worth immediately ruling a handful out. Manny Machado is a pipe dream, and while the Twins have the money to sign him, there will be no shortage of suitors and plenty more sexy landing spots. Brian Dozier’s time has probably come and gone with the organization, and Daniel Murphy should be both expensive and a significant fielding liability. Each of the remaining nine names presents some intrigue though, so individually they’re worth a look.
Jose Iglesias- The former Detroit Tigers shortstop is probably the cream of this crop in the field. While his DRS numbers don’t jump off the charts, he has a strong arm, solid range, and plays a well above-average shortstop. At just 28 years old he would give Minnesota the ability to sign a multi-year deal and feel pretty good about it.
Freddy Galvis- A relatively similar player to Iglesias, Galvis separates himself a bit with his stick. He’s hit at least 12 homers each of the past three years and there’s plenty of gap power here. He’s a strong defender as well and will be just 29 next season. He’s also a strong bet to land a multi-year deal.
D.J. LeMahieu- Coming off a second straight Gold Glove, the former Rockies second baseman is as sure as it gets in the field. He led MLB second basemen in DRS last season and locks down the right side of an infield. Obviously, his numbers are going to tumble away from Coors, but the question is to what extent. He’ll probably be looking for a bit more than he ends up being worth, but at 30 years old, more quality play should be ahead.
Ian Kinsler- Divisional familiarity is at play here after Kinsler spent four seasons with the Tigers. He’ll turn 37 during the 2019 season, and obviously isn’t the player he once was. Struggling to hit much at all last season, he still earned a Gold Glove with his exceptional defense. There’s still some power at the plate and it comes with some on-base ability.
Logan Forsythe- Minnesota is obviously familiar with this name, as he was swapped for Brian Dozier down the stretch. Forsythe can play an above average second base, and the defensive upgrade over Dozier was more than apparent. He hasn’t hit for two years, but he could be a decent buy-low target in his age 32 season.
Jordy Mercer- Stuck in the middle ground of average on both sides of the game, Mercer has an OK bat and a mediocre glove. He’s not someone you really want to employ at short but isn’t going to hit to the extent of moving positions. There’re on-base skills here too, and he has shown some pop in previous seasons, but this signing would come with plenty of uncertainty.
Asdrubal Cabrera- Nothing short of terrible in the field last year, Cabrera has become all bat at this point of his career. He’ll be 33 for his next team and is coming off a .774 OPS in 2018. He wasn’t good for the Phillies down the stretch but posted an exception .817 OPS with the Mets in 98 games to start the year. You’re asking a lot from Polanco in going this route, but maybe the offense makes up for it?
Daniel Descalso- Splitting between second and short last season for the Diamondbacks, Descalso was better on the right side. He’s a good contact hitter who doesn’t strike out a ton. While walks haven’t been his game either, Descalso may be a late-developing prime player. The .762 OPS since 2016 far surpasses the .648 OPS in six big league seasons prior.
Josh Harrison- Leaving the Pirates for the first time in his big-league career J-Hay is headed for untested waters. He’s been a jack of all trades most seasons but played solely second base last season. He’s average at worst in the field, and hovering around a .700 OPS is a fair expectation. You do worry about him never having played more than 143 games in a season, and there’s nothing he does exceptionally well.
In trying to figure out where the Twins might turn it’s not an either-or proposition. Certainly, they could bring in some middle infield depth, but there’s only one starting spot open. Polanco is going to be placed aside of whomever is inserted into the lineup and that makes it critical to get this right.
As a long-term play Jose Iglesias seems the best fit to me. He won’t be cheap, but you can’t expect him to break the bank either. Galvis strikes out a bit too much for a lineup filled with them, and Iglesias brings a slightly better form of defense. He can be inserted at shortstop for the next three years, and there then is no pressure for Royce Lewis needing to stick in that spot. Shoot for three years at $25 million and call it a day.
Should Minnesota be looking for just a short-term answer to this equation I think the bat-first mentality comes into play a bit more. On a one-year deal, age goes out the window and you’re staring at a trio of Kinsler, Forsythe, and Cabrera. I don’t think you can realistically employ Polanco and Cabrera up the middle without very negative results, and you probably should aim a bit higher than what Forsythe projects as. Welcome Ian Kinsler back to the division. Even at his worst offensively there’s both power and on-base skills to utilize. He’s just two years removed from an .831 OPS and he should be available at less than $10 million for a single season.
We’re still a way out from seeing how the Twins plan to address this situation, but it’s one of the most interesting and critical of the entire offseason.
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