Let's Get Creative: Pushing Jorge Polanco to the Utility Role?
Image courtesy of © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY SportsIt’s very difficult to evaluate and project Jorge Polanco. He hit a solid but not spectacular .272/.329/.420 in 288 games before his breakout 2019 where he exploded for 69 extra-base hits. Polanco started in the All-Star Game because of his terrific first-half production. Since the 2019 break though, Polanco has hit just .267/.325/.407 (95 wRC+) in 535 plate appearances. This line includes a disastrous September in 2020 where he had just a .625 OPS.
Polanco had his second ankle surgery in as many years and told Darren Wolfson that it bothered him at the plate much more than he let on. We’re all hopeful he returns to first-half 2019 form in 2021, but his track record shows that he’s more likely to be the career .278/.335/.434 (104 wRC+) hitter than the early-2019 world beater.
Those numbers, and especially his career 111 wRC+ versus right-handed pitching, would be incredibly valuable in a utility role. Polanco is a switch-hitter who can presumably play third, short, and second and is slated to make only $4.33 million in 2021, about the salary of a utility infielder.
Of course the other huge factor is the status of the Twins’ top prospect Royce Lewis. Reports and rumblings have indicated that Lewis isn’t quite ready to join the big league club. The Twins have also shown a propensity to hold players back until a clear role is established. Lewis isn’t there yet.
The Twins could just re-sign Ehire Adrianza, who was brutal offensively in 2020, to bridge the gap to Lewis, or they could get creative.
Polanco could slide into a platoon-role, primarily facing right-handed pitching while steping aside against lefties. One of the main focuses of this offseason for the Twins should be improvement against left-handers. Polanco has a career 89 wRC+ from the right side of the plate.
The free agent market is flush with potential options to share time with Polanco. Marcus Semien should do well considering his outstanding 2019 season. Semien posted 8.9 bWAR in 2019, a complete outlier to the other seven years of his career. He may not demand a long-term pact and owns a career .812 OPS against lefties.
Andrelton Simmons, another free agent with injury concerns, could sign a pillow deal in Minnesota and pair up with Josh Donaldson on the left side. Simmons is the best defensive shortstop in the world and has a respectable, given his defense, .730 OPS over the last four seasons.
Twins killer Didi Gregorius is a free agent but makes less sense because of his left handedness.
On the trade market, Javier Báez is entering his final year before free agency and will make a projected $11 million. The Cubs are eyeing a potential rebuild and will undoubtedly shop their veterans. Báez was abysmal in 2020 but has crushed lefties in his career (125 wRC+).
Xander Bogaerts and Francisco Lindor will likely be available but both are unlikely to be dealt to Minnesota. Bogaerts is owed $40 million through an opt-out in 2022, which will complicate the return in trade. Lindor will probably be traded, but not to a division rival.
The Twins have a unique opportunity to improve their depth by adding a legitimate starting shortstop for one to two years while the market is down. Polanco could thrive with less pressure and better matchups in the utility role, as well.
What do you think about this option?
MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
— Latest Twins coverage from our writers
— Recent Twins discussion in our forums
— Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email