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Let's Get Creative: Pushing Jorge Polanco to the Utility Role?

The Twins got creative last winter by signing Josh Donaldson and moving Miguel Sanó to first base. There is another opportunity for innovation this offseason at the shortstop position.
Image courtesy of © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
It’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?

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20 Comments

Absent injuries, Polanco's bat is a plus in the middle infield, but at SS his arm is not. I wouldn't supplant him with a glove-only guy, but a plus-glove attached to an okay bat is a way to improve the roster. Won't be a cheap acquisition but shouldn't break the bank either.

    • PDX Twin and wabene like this
No thanks to a utility player that has historically struggled defensively and can’t play the corners (I’m sorry, but don’t know where you get the idea that he has the arm to play 3rd). He’s a full time guy or he’s gone. You can find guys like Adrianza that can play all 4 infield spots, plus the OF, off the bench for a fraction of the cost.
    • Danchat and heresthething like this
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Richard Swerdlick
Oct 22 2020 01:13 AM

Let's see how Royce Lewis does in Spring Training. Let youth be served.

    • TopGunn#22 and Joey Self like this
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yeahyabetcha
Oct 22 2020 05:30 AM
Not sure it is wise to move on from Polanco as the starting SS based on 2020 results. Everyone is very quick to anoint Lewis as the next greatest thing based mostly on where he was drafted. It is very unlikely, but if Royce were to be the 2021 opening day starter and struck out twice and committed an error, I bet the posts would come in saying how he was rushed or is a complete bust
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Doctor Gast
Oct 22 2020 06:04 AM

I know last off season before we got Donaldson, I suggested we go after a SS & shift Polanco to 2B. Top of my wish list were Baez & Story at the time Cubs & Rockies had high hopes but this season they could be attainable. My doubts for placing Polanco at utility IMO is that I think Polanco has trouble adjusting w/ which arm motion to use thus causing throwing errors. Although I think Lewis is ready to be at least a doable SS or utility, I suggest that we wait because of the naysayers who are ready to pounce on him for any little thing therefore placing unmerited pressure on him.

I'd inquire about a Sano to the Rockies trade for Story.We'd have to give up much more, but I've got to believe the Rockies would be tempted by Sano's power in that thin air.The Twins could play Kiriloff exclusively at 1B or even move Donaldson over there for a game here and there.But their defense would improve substantially at SS and Story in front of or behind Cruz in the lineup would be exciting.The Rockies wouldn't be interested in Polanco as they have a young SS (Brendan Rogers) who would step in, so this might entail dealing Polanco in a separate deal.How about Sano and either Duran or Balazovic?  

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Major League Ready
Oct 22 2020 06:44 AM

 

I'd inquire about a Sano to the Rockies trade for Story.We'd have to give up much more, but I've got to believe the Rockies would be tempted by Sano's power in that thin air.The Twins could play Kiriloff exclusively at 1B or even move Donaldson over there for a game here and there.But their defense would improve substantially at SS and Story in front of or behind Cruz in the lineup would be exciting.The Rockies wouldn't be interested in Polanco as they have a young SS (Brendan Rogers) who would step in, so this might entail dealing Polanco in a separate deal.How about Sano and either Duran or Balazovic?  

 

For a player with one yearof control? Story is a FA after next year. The last thing we need to do is give up top SP prospects for a guy with one year of control no matter how good the guy with one year of control happens to be.

 

I would assume the Twins would much prefer Lewis end up as the every day SS and hopefully in the not too distant future. Although it seems highly unlikely he is promoted to the ML level until he proves himself for more than 22 games in the AZ fall league. Polanco is probably a trade asset once Lewis is established.

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stringer bell
Oct 22 2020 07:26 AM

I do find it interesting that many on this site are calling to bring up the prospects to a club that has won more regular season games in the last two years than anyone else in the American League. 

 

In very general terms, if they hit like 2019 and pitch like 2020, the Twins would be dominant. Specifically with Polanco, if he hit like 2019 (particularly the first half) and defended like 2020, he could be an All-Star candidate again. He has had at least a season and a half of ankle miseries, which might explain his decline in the second half of 2019 and his poor 2020. If he only an average hitter and an average to below average defensive shortstop next year, perhaps then he could/should be shifted to some type of utility role. I know he played a couple of games at third in his first year and he played a lot of second base in the minors. I think he could adjust. An average bat with the flexibility to play three defensive positions adequately would make him a pretty good replacement for Gonzalez/Adrianza and with Rocco's managing style, he would get plenty of at-bats. 

 

To me, Polanco to utility is Plan B or C. Things would have to happen for that move to happen, but I don't think it is out of the question entirely. 

    • Danchat, Major League Ready, Shaitan and 3 others like this

Is Nick Gordon not in the conversation at all? I know that he has had recurring health issues and that he has often disappointed on the field, but I find it shocking that we have a whole article with 8 lengthy comments about replacing Polanco and that Gordon (a first-round choice with AAA experience) doesn't get even a mention.

    • wabene and GNess like this

An ankle injury is more serious than it might sound to those who have not had one.The bones and complexity of the ankle make the operations and recovery difficult.Let's see if this operation works - if Polanco is all-star form again this conversation is moot.So lets get a good option for the utility position in case the injury continues with him.

    • wabene likes this

This sounds like change for the sake of change, which is kind of the dominant theme on here lately. This isn't a problem that needs to be solved.

 

If Lewis is ready, he'll push Polanco out. Polanco was injured this year but is a very good player.

 

The weakness of this year's team was its streaky hitting and inability to come through in pressure situations. That's on coaching IMO. (And untimtely injuries to Donaldson and Buxton, which may be a larger long-term problem given their histories.)

    • mikelink45 likes this

 

Is Nick Gordon not in the conversation at all? I know that he has had recurring health issues and that he has often disappointed on the field, but I find it shocking that we have a whole article with 8 lengthy comments about replacing Polanco and that Gordon (a first-round choice with AAA experience) doesn't get even a mention.

 

I wondered the same thing. 

 

JcS

    • GNess likes this

I'm a big fan of Polanco's.I'd be okay of leaving him there while Lewis tries to figure out AAA (if he even starts that high).

    • wabene likes this
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Battle ur tail off
Oct 22 2020 02:12 PM

 

The Twins got creative last winter by signing Josh Donaldson and moving Miguel Sanó to first base. There is another opportunity for innovation this offseason at the shortstop position.It’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?

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What for Baez? Other than Lindor, he might be the best SS in baseball. Great fielder and a nice power bat as well in his prime. They aren't gonna give him up for nothing, he would cost a ton IMO. This guy is a fantastic ballplayer.

 

Twins would have to give up the farm to get either of those guys. It won't happen. To me, Polanco has plenty of worth on this club as the starting SS. I only move him if Lewis is ready or if his(Polanco's) injury keeps nagging/turns out to be worse than we think.

 

 

 

 

 

I'd inquire about a Sano to the Rockies trade for Story.We'd have to give up much more, but I've got to believe the Rockies would be tempted by Sano's power in that thin air.The Twins could play Kiriloff exclusively at 1B or even move Donaldson over there for a game here and there.But their defense would improve substantially at SS and Story in front of or behind Cruz in the lineup would be exciting.The Rockies wouldn't be interested in Polanco as they have a young SS (Brendan Rogers) who would step in, so this might entail dealing Polanco in a separate deal.How about Sano and either Duran or Balazovic?  

When I first read this I thought huh there may be something there.Then I looked up Story home road splits and they are not good.His numbers split, in similar games 304 home 299 road.At bat 1151/1145, Hits 350/286 2b 80/66 3b 18/4 HR 84/50 K 331/395(kind of odd to have that big of difference K wise, must be the breaking balls moving more on the road) Ave 304/250 OBP 370/315, Slug 624/445, with OPS of 994/760.  

 

The man clearly benefits from hitting at Coors field and if you are getting only the road guy, then no I would not give up any top prospect for a 1 year rental.I mean those numbers are basically Polonco, so why give up a prospect to replace the guy you have with basically the guy you have?  

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Major League Ready
Oct 22 2020 03:38 PM

 

What for Baez? Other than Lindor, he might be the best SS in baseball. Great fielder and a nice power bat as well in his prime. They aren't gonna give him up for nothing, he would cost a ton IMO. This guy is a fantastic ballplayer.

 

Twins would have to give up the farm to get either of those guys. It won't happen. To me, Polanco has plenty of worth on this club as the starting SS. I only move him if Lewis is ready or if his(Polanco's) injury keeps nagging/turns out to be worse than we think.

 

Baez is in his final year and his wRC+ for 2020 was 57. Doubt he would cost the farm but I still don't see the point. His career wRC+ is 101. Polanco is a career 104 wRC+. In their last full year (2019) Baez Wrc+ was 114 and Polanco 119. 

His career wRC+ is 101. Polanco is a career 104 wRC+.

Polanco is here for his bat. Someone roughly as good with the bat, plus is actually a better than average defensive SS? Maybe the cost would be too high but he's not a player I would simply dismiss as an upgrade.
 

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Nash Walker
Oct 23 2020 02:26 AM

No thanks to a utility player that has historically struggled defensively and can’t play the corners (I’m sorry, but don’t know where you get the idea that he has the arm to play 3rd). He’s a full time guy or he’s gone. You can find guys like Adrianza that can play all 4 infield spots, plus the OF, off the bench for a fraction of the cost.


Darius, I appreciate the comment. Polanco was a plus defender (+1 DRS) in 2016 at third base. If you have the arm (or most of the arm) for short, you have the arm for third.

If you think Ehire Adrianza is anywhere near the hitter that Polanco is (even when hurt), I can’t help you there. Have a great weekend!
    • Battle ur tail off likes this
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Battle ur tail off
Oct 23 2020 09:24 AM

 

Darius, I appreciate the comment. Polanco was a plus defender (+1 DRS) in 2016 at third base. If you have the arm (or most of the arm) for short, you have the arm for third. If you think Ehire Adrianza is anywhere near the hitter that Polanco is (even when hurt), I can’t help you there. Have a great weekend!

 

Agree, the throw from 3B is shorter than the throw from short. Lateral movement must be better to stick at SS as well. 

 

I expect Gordon and Blankenhorn to duke it out for this role, perhaps with a journey UTIL type. If one of them can play OF, perhaps both make the roster to replace Adrianza and Gonzalez. It depends how much the front office trusts either at 2B or OF.

 

But that's a little off track. To stick to the topic, I don't think Polanco makes sense as a utility or super utility player. The stats above say why. And in the free agent example above, Donaldson got a long term deal. You generally don't shift positions for a stopgap.