Simmons Down, 1 to Go: Securing the Middle Infield
Image courtesy of ©Kim Klement and David Berding-USA TODAY SportsDonaldson at third, Polanco at second, Sano at first, and Andrelton Simmons at shortstop.
This appears to be the makeup of the 2021 Twins starting infield following Jeff Passan’s breaking news that Minnesota had finally filled a highly anticipated middle-infielder role on Tuesday night.
Perhaps tabbed as a sleeper pick amongst a talented group of free-agent infielders, the signing of Simmons brings a wealth of talent to Minnesota that is arguably unprecedented for the organization at shortstop. A four-time gold glove winner, Simmons is revered as one of the greatest defensive shortstops to ever play the game.
The Curacao native has led the league in defensive runs saved with 172 since his first full MLB season in 2013. In addition, Simmons has led the league in defensive WAR at 26.6 since his debut in 2012.
The 31-year-old is no slouch at the plate either. A career .269 hitter, Simmons slashed .281/.328/.394 in his past five seasons with the Los Angeles Angels. While he may not be a home run slugger, Simmons is one of four players to record a contact rate higher than 85% in the last eight seasons, joining Dustin Pedroia, Michael Brantley, and David Murphy.
With Simmons’ defensive talent and Jorge Polanco’s lackluster 2020 season at shortstop, it’s almost certain that Simmons will hold the fort down at short and Polanco will presume starting duties at second base. The move will push young star Luis Arraez to a “super-utility” role, likely playing a highly impactful role on defense and still getting a high number of at-bats.
This is all fun and great, but the question remains, who will fulfill the second utility role in a Twins infield that has seen a surplus of injury and a need for reinforcement?
Last week, sources reported that the organization was interested in re-signing free agent Marwin González as a utility man. That was before the news of the Simmons signing broke.
At the same time, Travis Blankenhorn is a bright young star within the organization who saw a small cusp of playing time last year.
Both options have their pros and cons, but one must be chosen. Let’s dig in.
A Case for Marwin
Mixed reactions were aroused last week when sources reported that the Twins were interested in resigning free-agent Marwin González. Whether you love him or hate him, the veteran has an upside.
Once a seasoned jack of all trades, Marwin patched together a “less than decent” two-year stretch with the Twins (I’m being nice). Between 2019 and 2020, González posted a meager .698 OPS with the Twins in 167 games. In that span, he batted .238 with 20 HR and 20 RBI.
Marwin Gonzales isn’t Marcus Semien, Tommy La Stella, or Trevor Story. Not even close.
Yet before you burn your jersey, sell your season tickets, and delete Twitter just wait.
Marwin’s better years may be in the past, but resigning him could signal a few things and pay off in the end. Here’s why.
Marwin’s total numbers as a Twin aren’t great, but the latter of the two years weighed down the majority of the poor numbers. 2020 was about as ‘2020’ as it could’ve been for González, slashing .211/.286/.320.
On the bright side, González had an above-average 2019 season. In fact, it was pretty good. González slashed .264/.322/.414 in 2019, his only 162 game season with the Twins. If González could rack up anything close to that as a second utility man in 2021, it would be considered a great success.
González isn’t the utility man that he used to be, but perhaps a less high-pressure role as a second utility man could provide the former clutch slugger with a greater opportunity for success.
González is not a bad ballplayer by any means. Heck, folks expected him to fulfill the role in 2019 that a top free-agent middle infielder is expected to fill in 2020 (aka Simmons). Yet that time has come and gone and Marwin González as a second utility man is not a bad gig if the price tag sits in the $1-2 million one-year deal range.
A Case for Travis
Twins fans saw their first glimpse of Travis Blankenhorn made his MLB debut against the White Sox in September. Blankenhorn went one for four, nabbing his first MLB hit on a double to right field. Following the game, Blankenhorn was designated back to the Twins alternate site in Saint Paul.
While his time in the bigs has been brief, there is undoubtedly untapped potential behind Blankenhorn’s bat..and glove.
While primarily a second baseman, Blankenhorn has played a myriad of roles in the field since being drafted in 2015. There’s no question that the Twins will take this into account when assessing the 24-year old’s future.
Similar to González, Blankenhorn’s bat can be a weapon. The lefty hit drove 19 balls out of the park between A and AA in 2019 (18 in Pensacola, 1 in Fort Meyers) on 471 plate appearances.
Not the sexiest numbers in the world, but the sample size is small, and it wouldn’t be just to gauge his full offensive potential without more big-league at-bats.
Playing in the MLB is certainly a step up from A and AA baseball. Yet the role of second-utility man could provide an excellent opportunity for Blankenhorn to get his feet wet in the bigs without diving in headfirst.
Perhaps the most important part? It’s likely the Twins would sign Blankenhorn to a league-minimum $650,000 contract. And even if it is more, it’s almost certain that they would be saving money on Blankenhorn compared to Marwin.
All in all, it boils down to the amount of offseason spending money the Twins want to free up and their commitment to investing in the future of a talented prospect.
What’s the best choice? Drop a comment below!
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