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  • Three Creative Options to Plug the Hole at Shortstop


    Jamie Cameron

    The Twins are unlikely to sign a big-name free agent shortstop. Here are three creative ways Minnesota could address its shortstop need.

    Image courtesy of Ray Seabeck, USA Today Sports

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    If you’re anything like me, it’s easy to get stuck in patterns of familiar thinking when considering possible moves the Twins front office could make to fill a need. Let’s take shortstop as an example. The need is clear. Andrelton Simmons was incredibly limited in what he offered the Twins offensively in 2021. The dichotomy I jump to when considering shortstop next steps is this:

    • Target a big-name free agent from the greatest-ever free agent shortstop class, a move doomed to failure OR
    • I resign myself to the inevitable reunion with Simmons which will result in me not being savvy enough to recognize his defensive wizardry while screaming at my TV while he plays fruit ninja at home plate during each at-bat.

    Neither is satisfactory. 

    It doesn’t have to be this way, however. One of the beauties of the off-season is considering creative possibilities. To escape the painful reverberation in the Twins twitter echo chamber in light of recent Byron Buxton-related developments, I decided to think through some outside-the-box options for the Twins to plug their shortstop-sized roster hole.

    These moves are predicated on a simple, but important assumption:

    The Twins are seeking a short-term solution. Whether because they don’t want to, or simply can’t, sign a big-name free agent, I’m going to assume the Twins long-term answer at shortstop is internal, be it Royce Lewis or someone else.

    So who, or what, are some options we might not have considered?

    Sign Chris Taylor to a 3 or 4 Year Deal
    This isn’t exactly a secret. Taylor has been a popular, much-discussed option among Twins fandom this off-season. Let’s add to the context. Taylor has averaged 2.8 fWAR over the last five seasons. Impressive. Last season he played at least 20 games at four different positions (SS, 2B, LF, CF) and is solid defensively in all of them. The Twins have shown in recent seasons, that they have multiple cornerstones in their lineup who are extremely injury prone. This makes so much sense. The beauty of signing Taylor to a three or four-year deal, is if your shorstop of the future is Lewis and he’s ready, the Twins will undoubtedly have a role that needs to be filled with a strong hitter. Taylor isn’t a super-utility player, he’s just a super baseball player.

    Trade for Arizona Diamondbacks SS Nick Ahmed
    Nick Ahmed is and has been, one of the best defensive shortstops in the league for some time. In 2021, he massed 19 OAA (Outs Above Average), good for third in the league behind Nicky Lopez and Francisco Lindor and three better than Simmons. Lopez is not a strong hitter and has averaged around a 90 wRC+ for Arizona in the last four seasons (and averaged 1.25 fWAR in that same span). The Diamondback are going nowhere soon and Ahmed should be available at a pretty acceptable price. He will be a free agent in 2024, so if the Twins are confident that Royce Lewis is ready, he immediately becomes a defensively excellent utility infielder. 

    Trade for Tampa Bay Rays Infielder Joey Wendle
    Joey Wendle is a curious case who doesn’t get much shine because he’s chronically under-utilized. In 2021, Wendle was called into action, playing over 130 games for the first time since 2018. He played at second base, but was primarily at shortstop and third. Wendle was 17th among all infielders in OAA with 8 on the season. Offensively, Wendle is no slouch either, amassing 2.6 fWAR and a 106 wRC+. Indeed, over his last five seasons, Wendle has averaged a 111wRC+. In three of those four, however, he’s played less than 80 games. Like Ahmed, Wendle isn’t a free agent until 2024 and would be an excellent fill-in at other infield positions if he was no longer needed as a primary shortstop.

    Which of these options do you like most as a potential target for the Twins? What are other names do you like that have not been mentioned to fill needs on the Twins roster?

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    Chris Taylor is my choice all the way - Won't require a 200M contract and can play at  SS until Lewis is ready to go.  Then you can use him as your utility guy.  Try to trade current utility guy Arraez for something now since his knees will prevent him from ever reaching his full potential.

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    Thanks Jaime, to me it's common sense, but I tend to think out of the box too. I've been a Chris Taylor advocate for yrs. I wanted him in both the Dozier and the Graterol trade, IMO that would've been a better time to obtain Taylor because they still had Kiki Hernandez. Now that they're both gone and the next crop isn't stepping up, I see LA wanting to sign him. LA values defense with depth especially at SS and CF (unlike MN), LA loves Taylor and Taylor loves LA. LA will have the opportunity to match any offer.

    Wendel is another good choice. Although Wendel would love to play fulltime in one position, I believe TB won't let him go. TB (like any good team that want to compete) values depth in defense in key positions. I don't see TB giving up Wendel even if they get over paid.

    That leaves Ahmad, which is IMO the best option. If ARI goes full rebuild, trading off all their veterans and willing to tank the next few years. My guess is they will. 

    Mondesi (KC) has been mentioned but KC loves him and will move him to 3B and have him available to help out at SS.

     

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    Are any of these players+the cost it will take to acquire them a better short term solution than putting Polanco back at SS? Or are the Twins done playing him there?

    I love Chris Taylor. MLB Trade Rumors estimates him getting 4/64. I don't love him for the Twins at that contract. He's also 31 and has hardly played SS at the major league level. I'm also not convinced the Twins would be on paying someone like Taylor, who isn't a full time shortstop. $16 million per year and not be in on paying Story 6/126 for $21 million per year (again MLB Trade Rumors projection). I know we're talking about the Twins, but $5 million/yr for a much better player at a premier position is certainly something you can stomach.

    Nick Ahmed is one year younger than Andrelton Simmons and actually has worse career offensive numbers. If he's available for a random relief prospect, then maybe. After watching Simmons be a black hole in the lineup last year I'd rather put Polanco out there and deal with the defense.

    Not very interested in Wendle as a starting SS. Turns 32 in April. Again has hardly played SS at the major league level. His arbitration estimate is only $4 million. I think he is a good overall player, so if he's available for cheap I'd be interested. Again, not convinced it's a better solution than Polanco and looking to improve the team elsewhere.

     

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    "While he plays fruit ninja at home plate during each at bat." I laughed out loud at that sentence, and I didn't even know what fruit ninja was. Then I looked it up and laughed out loud again. What a great sentence describing Simmons at bats. I nominate this sentence for the funniest sentence of 2021 on Twins Daily.. Thank you Jamie

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    How about signing Galvis or Villar and let them play there until May 1, allowing. Lewis to start the season at AAA? This would also allow the team to include Arraez in a trade for staring pitching. 

    If the team elects to go big, I'm in for Semien as he also has shown he can play other positions capably.

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    The truth is there is no certainty at all that Lewis is a MLB player let alone shortstop. He is two years on the shelf and he didn't exactly tear up AA. The conundrum is that the Twins have no chance to compete in 2022 but we will won't see a FA shortstop class like this for many years. That means the 3rd-7th options will trade cheaper than they would in a normal year. A real franchise would exploit that, get one of those guys and sort out Lewis later. But every day, I lose faith that the Twins are a serious franchise. If they let Buck go, that will exacerbate that perception. The Twins shouldn't worry about me but they should worry about that effect on any potential free agent signing.   

    Also, given the Berrios experience, I wouldn't make Baez my first call.   

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    Agree with JR. The jury is still out on Lewis (or Martin) as an everyday MLB shortstop. 
     

    If BB is not resigned (heaven forbid) Lewis is likely our CF of the future. If BB is resigned, Lewis, Martin and Larnach are our corner outfielders of the future with Lewis able to play CF when BB is on IR. By 2023, this should be a strong cadre of four outfielders with an attractive mix of speed, power, and OBA.  Also, all four would be under long term control and thee would essentially be at league minimum.

    So let’s go get a 5 yr plus solution at SS out of the current FA crop. If not, Taylor is a preferred target. 
     

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    I'm not super enthusiastic about Taylor. Comes with a QO, his defense at SS has been below average across his career (-4.9 UZR/150 career) and he's age 31. His contract predictions seem to generally be in the 4 year $15MM AAV range. Taylor's bat is solidly a bit above average, but he does strike out quite a bit for his mediocre power numbers.

    Nick Ahmed is the reason the Diamondbacks didn't have Escobar playing SS, but it's become pretty apparent he can't hit. I'm not exited about trading for a guy who produced 0.0 fWAR this year and is under contract for 2 more years and nearly $18MM.

    Wendle is chronically under-utilized? Not buying that. With just 3 plate appearances more in in 2021, he'd have been qualified in 3 of 4 years. In 2019, he broke his wrist and had another stint on the IL for a hamstring.  He's not been asked to cover shortstop a whole lot, averaging about 10 games a year there, but he has graded out well on the defensive side of things. The problem is he's not been projected as a shortstop. Wendle saw a big drop off in sprint speed now at age 31 and his arm was rated as questionable at SS though his small sample size seems to be allowing for a stellar error rate. Unfortunately, his error rate at 3B is pretty poor in far more opportunities. Wendle is year 2 arbitration eligible, projected to make $4.0-4.5MM and he'll be in his 3rd year of arbitration in 2023. It's tough to say how the Rays value him. How good is Wendle? Probably not good enough if the Twins are looking to compete, but not truly cheap if they're looking to rebuild.

    Of the three, if I had to pick one, it'd be Wendle, but I'd rather find talent elsewhere.

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    The money it would cost to sign Taylor needs to be spent on pitching.  To me the best choice is Wendell.  But as tony&rodney asked...what would it take to get him from Tampa ??  If they would accept Strotman even up, I'd do it in a heartbeat.  Wendell may be a spare part with Javier and Brujan emerging.  (and they also have Lowe). 

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    Another option to consider? There are all these high priced free agent ss that are going to replace other ss starters (at least a few) so why not wait and pick from the "low hanging fruit" as they say, in a trade. Probably could pick up an established player at a lower "cost".

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    15 hours ago, Nashvilletwin said:

    Agree with JR. The jury is still out on Lewis (or Martin) as an everyday MLB shortstop. 
     

    If BB is not resigned (heaven forbid) Lewis is likely our CF of the future. If BB is resigned, Lewis, Martin and Larnach are our corner outfielders of the future with Lewis able to play CF when BB is on IR. By 2023, this should be a strong cadre of four outfielders with an attractive mix of speed, power, and OBA.  Also, all four would be under long term control and thee would essentially be at league minimum.

    So let’s go get a 5 yr plus solution at SS out of the current FA crop. If not, Taylor is a preferred target. 
     

    Agree with all except Taylor, whom I feel will be over-priced.

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    "Plugging the hole" implies the dam won't be leaking any longer. I don't think putting someone else's leaky plug in our SS hole does that.

     

    You don't build "sustainable contention" with substandard players. Why wouldn't we expect the Twins to target ABOVE average players??

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    If the Twins are sold on Lewis being the shortstop (something I'm not sold on), either give him the position already or bring back Simmons (who can save 4-5 games with his defense) or sign Jose Iglesias for 1 year (who can give them more offense). Look, if our offense was up to snuff we wouldn't need Simmons to hit. And he can hit at least .230 next year (IMHO).

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