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Twins Making Sweeping Changes on the Diamond?

When the Minnesota Twins decided to non-tender C.J. Cron it immediately created another position of need for the 2020 club. Joining the necessity to add starting pitching and a backup catcher, they’ll now must figure out who plays first base. The question is, was the decision part of a grander plan?
Image courtesy of © Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
After grabbing Cron following his DFA from the Tampa Bay Rays last offseason, Minnesota got a tale of two halves from their first basemen. Through May Cron had an .866 OPS and that number was still .833 at the end of June. He went on the injured list for the first time on July 7. At that point he had an .821 OPS and he returned nine days later only to make a second IL trip on the 22nd on July. From the time he returned on August 3, he posted just a .702 OPS and seven homers across 149 plate appearances. Gone was the power hitter that started the year so well for Minnesota.

Having undergone offseason surgery to address the issue with his thumb, something he has done previously in his career, the health status of the California native will remain largely up in the air until spring training begins. Judging by their decision to non-tender, it seems that was a risk that the Twins were unwilling to take. But what do they do now?

Well, if there was one thing that substantially failed the Twins down the stretch last year it was defense. Byron Buxton being on the shelf didn’t help the outfield at all, but the infield struggled to stay above water as well. Miguel Sano proved limited in his lateral movement, Jorge Polanco’s throws were often erratic, and Luis Arraez posted negative defensive numbers despite being otherworldly at the dish. If Rocco Baldelli wants that to take a step forward, shuffling some pieces on the dirt makes some sense.

The growing sentiment is that Miguel Sano can slide over to first base. That seems like his most likely position long-term unless he’s going to be a designated hitter. He would need to put in significant work to be capable there given the number of scoops Cron saved for his fielders in 2019. Footwork is also a drastic change across the diamond, and while Sano is plenty good enough as an athlete to do this, it would absolutely be a work in progress. From a net gain perspective for the team however, there’s probably the most room for growth by acquiring an elite third basemen.

On this year’s market there are just two players that fit the bill: Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rendon. They couldn’t be more different from a compensation and future perspective and they offer drastically differing opportunities. Donaldson is a larger risk due to age and injury but comes at a muted cost. Rendon has the probability of being a perennial MVP candidate, but will be close to breaking the bank for years to come. Should Minnesota venture down either of these paths, the substantial step forward at third would likely boost Polanco on that side as well. You acquire a plus bat with a glove that plays well above average at the hot corner and the defensive acumen begins to turn up.

I’m not suggesting that it’s Donaldson, Rendon, or bust for the Twins. Maybe they have an eye on a non-tender like Travis Shaw, maybe they believe Alex Kirilloff or Brent Rooker is ready, or maybe someone not currently on the radar becomes an option. It does seem logical to believe that with Cron being moved on from, a shift on the infield dirt is coming. I’d bet on regression for almost all lineups across baseball in 2020, so how you handle the other facets of the game will wind up being the difference in who sinks or swims.

- Minnesota’s Internal First Base Options
- Twins Offseason Trade Target: Matt Chapman
- What the Early Twins Offseason Rumblings Tell Us

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Are the Arraez stats specific to 2B?

Dec 03 2019 10:01 PM


Are the Arraez stats specific to 2B?


Yes, that was at 2nd base. Interestingly, in the 17 games he played at 3rd, although the sample was relatively small, he was the second best 3rd baseman by a wide margin over (Gonzales was exceptional at 3rd and just about everywhere else except 1B). Just something else to chew on.

    • Shaitan likes this

I believe a guy like Arraez has had to focus almost entirely on hitting to get to the majors. Is there a possibility that he can improve significantly in the field if he puts more energy into that part of his game?

I like to think that is possible. Probable? Maybe not, but a guy who can hit like he does must have a fair bit of untapped potential when he’s wearing a glove. 
It promises to be fun to watch his career. 

    • Mike Frasier Law, Oldgoat_MN, mikelink45 and 4 others like this
Dec 03 2019 10:20 PM

Find a great glove for Shortstop, move Sano to 1B, Polanco to 2B and Arraez to 3B.The infield has now improved drastically on defense.

    • birdwatcher, raindog, High heat and 6 others like this

I don't think it's out of the question that Arraez could improve his defense at 2B with more experience. He's not going to have great range, but I think his fielding will improve.

    • diehardtwinsfan, Twins33, Mike Frasier Law and 5 others like this
It's also not out of question that a pair of soon to be 26yo left side infielders could continue to develop and improve.

Fact: Sano re-dedicated himself to slim down and get in better shape and improve his game.

Fact: Sano had a weird, crazy injury that supplanted his ST and full readiness.

Fact: In the Twins own history of 3B, forgetting anyone else, 2 of their best 3B, Gaetti and Koskie, started out as poor or questionable defensively.

Fact: Polanco is a good athlete who is still growing in to the position not only because he is relatively young, but was also jerked around by the previous FO before Molitor just placed him at SS on a daily basis.

Fact: Other than tweaking and learning a few things about positioning and just watching the darn ball in to your glove at times, Polanco's biggest issue was throwing. He found a new motion that seemed to make a difference and should continue to make a difference.

Facf: Arraez is an instinctual ballplayer and was a rookie who should only get better with experience.

We need a 1B, whoever it may be. Sano moves there..and I think he can be OK to good with time...only because there is a better option for 3B. Unless we blow things up at 3B with a major trade or FA target, 1B needs to be addressed.
    • birdwatcher, Thrylos, Mike Frasier Law and 12 others like this

I think we can forget about a big free agent signing like Josh Donaldson or Anthony Rendon. Not going to happen. Maybe a Shaw-type signing would work or another reclamation project with a good glove. I still think Sano is better off at third rather than moving him to first base.

    • denarded, Oldgoat_MN, Dman and 2 others like this

DocBauer nailed it.First I discount if not throw out all these defensive metrics.They do not measure if a person is positioned right, if the shift is on, and other nuances.Offense is measured quite well even if not perfect, but throw out the defensive WAR and other mind games.Arraez was moved all over last year, often to positions he had not played and he still kept his batting focus.Let him play one position and we will see a rise in his reputation.  


Polanco's arm is probably an issue that will not go away - is he worth moving?I do not know.I do know that Sano should be at 3B for the foreseeable future.


One note in defense - if Cron had a season of statistical whiplash and his injury caused us to let him go, how do we look at the continual injury history and projections for Buxton?

    • Steve Lein and rdehring like this

One note in defense - if Cron had a season of statistical whiplash and his injury caused us to let him go, how do we look at the continual injury history and projections for Buxton?

I’d say the difference is that Cron, at his best, is an averagish 1B. This is a position that can fairly easily be filled. On the other hand, Buxton has MVP ability and a platinum glove…The much, much higher ceiling is worth taking the chance.
    • Don Walcott, Battle ur tail off and Litdus like this

How is Arraez's arm? Does it play at 3B?

    • gagu likes this
Dec 04 2019 09:49 AM

I get the feeling the front office will just fill 1B with an affordable deal for someone like Neil Walker, Eric Thames, Mitch Moreland, Justin Smoak. Uninspiring.

    • Battle ur tail off likes this
Don Walcott
Dec 04 2019 09:58 AM

Ted, I always enjoy your perspective and the way you analyze how the FO has, will or should proceed with a plan.Thank you for your insight.


I'm getting nervous about the number of teams in play for the top FA pitchers. I really believe the FO should focus on getting at least one of the big 5, and one other serviceable back end starter. We should also get a reliever.


I would be fine sticking with what we have for a lineup, and bringing in one or two of the young guys to fill the gaps. Sano has such a good arm, and shows flashes of great hands. In my opinion, it would be a shame to move him to first at this point, when he seems to be on the cusp of becoming a good 3B. But if we can fill the hole at 3rd with Arraez, Gonzales, or others already in our system, I guess moving Sano the 1B might be the best long-term decision, as he's likely to end up there at some point anyway, and he might as well start getting good at the position sooner than later.


Like other posters above, I'm not too worried about the defense going forward, as we have young guys who appear capable of improving, and a couple of stop-gap veterans who are good at several positions (Gonzales and Adrianza). But I'd also not be opposed to bringing in a glove-first SS and move Polanco to 2B. I'd also not be opposed to bringing in Shaw, who is also fairly versatile in the infield, and can be used as a platoon hitter.


Bottom line is that hitting and defense do not seem to be as much of a need as pitching this off season, even without re-signing Cron (assuming his thumb heals properly by Spring Training). And I would be excited to see Rooker, Larnach and/or Kiriloff break out in this team out of Spring Training.

    • mikelink45 likes this


Fact: Sano had a weird, crazy injury that supplanted his ST and full readiness.

Fact: In the Twins own history of 3B, forgetting anyone else, 2 of their best 3B, Gaetti and Koskie, started out as poor or questionable defensively.


I think these are the 2 most salient points regarding 3B. If you want Sano to improve, he needs to be healthy in spring training so he can actually work on it. And there's no question that there's plenty of history of the twins having guys start out as the Butcher of Cairo over there and turning into adequate if not plus defenders. (Trevor Plouffe who looked like he was playing with a frying pan instead of a glove at times improved rather drastically as I recall and the stats back it up)

    • birdwatcher, Mike Frasier Law, mikelink45 and 2 others like this
In My La-Z-boy
Dec 04 2019 10:26 AM

One of the factors in play in my opinion is how to get Mitch Garver more ab's? I think the way is going to be 30-40 games at 1b. I don't see us signing any infielders, and I hope we don't waste a dime on much other than starting pitching. Gonzalez played an exceptional 3rd I thought last year. We are a better defense with Gonzalez at 3b and Sano at 1b immediately. We have no shortage of options for the infield. 

Based on my reading so far, it is going to take a motherload to reel in Wheeler - the Blue Jays are hawking Pineda right now - it is go time on quality starting pitching, and if we aren't willing to "overpay" it looks like the Phillies/Chisox/Angels et all will. The market is well in favor of the pitchers this year. It is going to take a potentially unreasonable amount of dollars and years to get one of the top 5. 

    • Don Walcott likes this


Find a great glove for Shortstop, move Sano to 1B, Polanco to 2B and Arraez to 3B.The infield has now improved drastically on defense.


This is my thought! 
I think Sano can be as good as Cj Cron was defensively at 1B, but it requires all offseason and lots of innings this

look at bringing in a guy like Addison Russell Or Jose Iglesias.  Polanco would likely be a good maybe great defensive 2b. 
all the sudden the poor infield defense becomes a strength. 

I hope they put Garver at First base weekly so he doesn't wear himself out catching every game, now that we only have One good catcher....Maybe put Buxton on first because I dont think he can hurt himself there?
    • Don Walcott and In My La-Z-boy like this
Put defense at the top of the priority list, right under pitching.

I hope that a basic nucleus from the team that won 101 games last year remains. Ideally still Kepler, Buxton, Rosario in the OF, Sano 3rd or 1st, Polanco SS or 2nd, Cruz DH, Arraez somewhere, Garver C or 1st and go from there. Name a team that pitching is not a work in progress so that speaks for itself and never goes away in April. Also, MLB must be looking at the over predominance of the 4 bagger in 2019 so even the baseball itself may make a big difference in 2020.

I know it won’t happen, but Rendon could be the piece that gets this team over the hump.

Kepler, RF
Polanco, SS
Rendon, 3B
Cruz, DH
Garver, C
Sano, 1B
Rosario, LF
Arraez, 2B
Buxton, CF

Marwin, Cave, etc off the bench.

The defense, especially with Buxton healthy, would be solid. The lineup is easily the best in the MLB. Rendon brings another layer of “been there,” along with Cruz and Marwin. There should be plenty of payroll left to address the pitching staff (id bring back Pineda and a guy like Ryu to slot into the 3-4 holes).

That’s a legitimate World Series contender (not a pretender like last year).

Now, back to reality. I wonder how cheaply we’ll get Ivan Nova and Jedd Gyorko.
    • Bomba2026 likes this
Did I really read above that someone wants to take the best defensive CF of all time and put him at 1B?

There truly must be nothing to talk about right now.
    • Mike Frasier Law and bighat like this
Twins Fan 7
Dec 04 2019 01:47 PM

The Twins will not sign a big time free agent. Never have never will. How about we sign a fourth outfielder that realistically can play everyday. Buxton cannot stay on the field. We have enough depth in our minors to cover first base. SPEND the money on Starting Pitching. We need a reliable starter come playoff time

Twins Fan 7
Dec 04 2019 01:54 PM

I have no problem bringing Pineda back on a two year deal to be the fifth starter. We just cant go out and sign three number 5 starters though

I'm fine with Sano at 3rd, Polanco at SS, and Arraez at 2nd. In reality none of it matters unless the Twins get decent pitching.


Phillies just got Wheeler. Braves just got Cole Hamels.


The Twins are once again in an all-too-familiar spot watching other teams sign the best FA pitchers, while they wait for the annual February dumpster dive.

It is fun to write about, but only pitching gets us past the first round and it is getting scarce.However, if Cleveland can fill in Plutko and Civale and get great pitching, why can't we get out young arms to shine?


It is fun to write about, but only pitching gets us past the first round and it is getting scarce.However, if Cleveland can fill in Plutko and Civale and get great pitching, why can't we get out young arms to shine?

Because we have no track record of being able to do so? The Twins need a proven ace, period.

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