As I wrote yesterday, Simmons and Buxton rate as the two hitters facing the greatest injury risk, according to new models built by Sports Info Solutions for predicting injuries. It wasn’t the focus of yesterday’s article, but the same model also marks Josh Donaldson (unsurprisingly) as a source of above-average injury risk, thanks to his age, the chronic nature of his recent calf injuries, and his hard-nosed defensive style at third base. All three of those guys are talented enough to be worth the roll of the dice, but the Twins couldn’t rely on the trio without giving themselves more than the usual allotment of backup options.
Starting second baseman Jorge Polanco is the chief backup shortstop, of course. Still, once Royce Lewis turned up with a knee injury (as it turned out, a very serious one) to open camp, the team gave a spring audition to Andrew Romine. After exercising the release clause in his deal, Romine is now a free agent again, but the Twins are comfortable with that partially thanks to Polanco’s apparent health and ease of movement this spring. Riddle does not have an immediate release clause in his minor-league deal, though, so the team can keep him around as emergency depth at that position.
Keeping Luis Arraez out of left field, at least at first, was also a response to the risks associated with the infielders starting ahead of him. It was an expression of the organization’s belief (which probably still holds, for the most part) that playing time would open up for Arraez on the infield sooner than in the outfield.
Speaking of the outfield, though, the team needs to have a more qualified medium-term answer for a Buxton injury than sliding Jake Cave or Max Kepler into center field. To that end, they have Keon Broxton in camp. Broxton’s non-roster deal includes a release clause, but it doesn’t kick in until midseason. That means that the Twins can carry him at the alternate site, and then as a member of the Triple-A St. Paul Saints, until the summer, unless they need him sooner. Once he’s called up, however, he can’t be optioned. For that reason, don’t expect Broxton to make the Opening Day roster; he’s being kept as dry powder for the inevitable exigency of Buxton going down.
Travis Blankenhorn provides a very different shape of offensive value than Arraez, but he can be a solid left-handed batter and play a couple of infield spots if needed. Gilberto Celestino could use a healthy chunk of playing time to continue his development in the minor leagues, but he’s already on the 40-man roster. In Polanco, Arraez, Blankenhorn, Celestino, Cave, Riddle, and Broxton, the Twins have cobbled together sufficient depth to weather the injury trouble they’re likely to encounter as a result of having Simmons, Buxton, and Donaldson crowded onto one roster.
That doesn’t make them invincible. Arraez or Polanco could get hurt at an interval that overlaps with the absence of Simmons or Donaldson, forcing Riddle into action early and forcing the team to waive him once everyone gets healthy. Buxton could get hurt almost right away, prompting a Broxton call-up and a subsequent DFA, leaving Celestino as the sole firewall for the rest of the year.
Still, despite the significant additive, individual risks the club faces, the front office has put together a sufficiently deep and versatile crew to withstand the risks they’ve chosen. It’s tempting to think of health as a matter of pure luck; the new models from SIS belie that notion. If a team methodically assesses their health risks and builds redundancies to soften them, then it really does take a horrific streak of bad luck to turn things sour. If the Twins edge out the already-depleted White Sox in this year’s AL Central race, it might well be because they were more proactive about thwarting the likely impact of injury luck.