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  • Is Jorge Polanco the Veteran Leader for the Twins Turnaround?


    Cody Christie

    Minnesota’s next contending team might not be on the field for a couple of seasons. Can Jorge Polanco provide the veteran leadership needed for the Twins turnaround? 

     

    Image courtesy of © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

    Jorge Polanco must have been riding high back in 2019 as he made his first All-Star Game as the American League’s starting shortstop. He finished that season with career highs in nearly every offensive category, and the Twins were at the top of the AL Central. Life was good. 

    In each of the last two offseasons, he underwent ankle surgery. Polanco’s clearly-hampered swing was evident as he played through the injury. During the 2020 season, he played in 55 of the team’s 60 games, but his slugging percentage dropped over 130 points compared to 2019. Over the team’s final 15 games, he posted a .167 batting average with two extra-base hits. 

    Entering the 2021 season, Minnesota’s offseason plan included moving Polanco from shortstop to second base. He has always been stretched defensively at shortstop, and the switch may also take some pressure off his ailing ankles. He has been good defensively as he ranks just outside the top-3 AL second basemen when it comes to SABR’s Defensive Index. While the defensive switch has worked, his offensive numbers are what really needed to improve.  

    Quietly, Polanco has rediscovered his swing during the 2021 season. Over the team’s last 70 games, he is hitting .297/.355/.524 (.879) with 15 home runs and 17 doubles. If the season ended today, there’s a good chance he would be named the team MVP. On a last-place team, that might not mean a lot, but it might be a sign of him being healthy for the first time in multiple seasons. 

    Polanco is signed through 2023 as part of his 5-year, $25.75 million extension, but vesting/team options can keep in Minnesota through 2025. If he stays with the Twins, he will turn 31-years old in 2025, and the team would control the majority of his prime years. By being with the organization for this long, he also has the opportunity to be the veteran presence on a team that will include a young core of Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, and other prospects yet to debut.

    Over the last decade, veteran players like Nelson Cruz, Brian Dozier, and Torii Hunter took on the team leader role to help nurture young players and be the contending team's voice. Polanco hasn't taken on that role yet, but looking into the future makes it easier to imagine him taking on the leadership role the future Twins will need on and off the field. 

    Do you think Polanco is the right veteran leader for the Twins turnaround? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. 

     

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    Not only can he be but if I were Rocco I would hope he would embrace that role.  Super solid ballplayer,  You know what you are going to get from him day in and day out.

    Edited by spanman2
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    Polanco is the only leader sure to stick around.

    #2 is Garver, a now experienced catcher who is able to lead a young pitching staff. He is tradeable with Jeffers ready and a need for SP.

    #3 is Buxton. He works as hard as anyone and he's fought through struggles. I hope the Twins pony up and pay him. 

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    Polanco can and shold be a team leader. He's is a key part of the core going forward along with Buxton, Kirilloff, Donaldson, and maybe Arraez. Sano and/or Kepler/ Who knows. Can be anywhere from bench guy/4th of to middle of the order bat DH (Sano) and 6th place hitter (Kepler). Here's what we got, assuming we re-sign Buxton (absolute necessity) -

    1B - Kiriloff

    2B - Polanco

    SS - ???!!!

    3B - Donaldson/Arraez

    UTL - Arraez, Gordon. 

    Infield - Bottom line, need a Shortstop. Bad. Rest pretty decent. Probably strongest group on the team. 

    OF - Buxton, ?????, Kepler/Larnach/Rooker

    Outfield - Bottom line, need that 2nd quality OF. Bad. Maybe it can be Larnach or Rooker. Kepler is a 3rd/4th OF now, unlikely to step up farther after this many years. 

    SP - ???, ???, Maeda, Pineda (if re-signed), ??? (Ober, Jax. Barnes, Dobnak)

    Starting Pitching - Ugly. Maeda and Pineda can hold down the 3/4 spots, the other 4 should give us a 5th starter and maybe another 4th starter type. Need 2 top end guys pretty badly.  

    RP - Rogers, Duffy, Alcala, 4-5 x ????? (Coloumbe, Theilbar)

    Bullpen - Need 4 to 5 guys for next year. Coloumbe might be one of them, Theilbar has a shot at a back of the bullpen spot. After that, it's a complete crapshoot/nightmare. Bring up the AAA guys and start sorting through them. 

    Not looking so rosy. Hope help is really on the way from below. 

     

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    1 hour ago, mikelink45 said:

    Leadership is something that happens, it is not assigned or expected.   It is maturity, personality, charisma, and talent.  If he becomes that, great.  But if that is not part of who he is and he continues to play well that is okay too. 

    Totally agree.

    I've noticed that whenever there is a meeting on the mound, Polanco keeps his mouth shut. This is hardly an indictment. He is a valuable team member, but his leadership , I think, is by example.

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    I think it's hard to speculate on Polanco's raw leadership skills since so much of the spotlight has been drawn on Cruz for the past few years. That being said, he has a chance to shine being the offensive leader of the team right now.

    Also, the critics who wanted to trade him this trade deadline are out of there minds. Polanco may be on one of the most team friendly deals in all of baseball over the next few seasons. At this point, there's little reason to suggest he cannot maintain a 3-4 WAR average per year. 

    For the people worried about Arraez, I think you'll see Donaldson either moved to another team or to DH. Arraez will probably be your long term 3B. 

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    Some pretty bullish folks on Polanco and his value. I honestly don't know how much of a leader Polanco is, and it's worth noting he's only 27. I view Polanco as expendable because Arraez is just as good, plays the same position and is less expensive. I do think Polanco is a solid enough player who I'd want to hang on to if it weren't for Arraez. I do believe Arraez is a little better. I see no reason not to agree that Polanco is likely to remain in that 3-4 WAR category.

    • 2016 (270 PA) = -0.1 fWAR vs. 0.4 bWAR
    • 2017 (544 PA) = 1.6 fWAR vs. 1.4 bWAR
    • 2018 (333 PA) = 1.4 fWAR vs. 0.9 bWAR
    • 2019 (704 PA) = 4.0 fWAR vs. 4.7 bWAR
    • 2020 (226 PA) = 0.8 fWAR vs. 0.3 bWAR
    • 2021 (415 PA) = 2.4 fWAR vs. 3.3 bWAR

     

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    Polanco should be very, very proud. He's made every adjustment and fought through every adversity so far. I look forward to him leading a younger, hungry team into the postseason in the (hopefully near) future.

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    I was never down on him when he slumped. He's had a very, very odd career if you step back and really look at it. 

    He was signed as a glove first SS with a questionable bat. And then the bat developed so well he was often slid down to the 3 spot on his milb team. And then the Twins, desperate for infield help, brought him up to the ML way too early and burned an early option while also bouncing him around the infield instead of being allowed to concentrate on SS. Molitor believed he could play SS and put him out there. And let's face it, all of us have seen far worse SS at the ML level than Polanco. 

    And he mashed. Then he had a personal tragedy that really affected him. Then he had a suspension due to a masking agent and some wanted to say "see he's been juicing". But then again, he comes back and shows what he can do in a big way.  THEN, he has not ONE, but TWO ankle surgeries! His 2020 was miserable defensively, but a bad ankle also effected his defense surely. But he was a gamer and was in the field day after day. He started slow this season still recovering, still getting his stance and approach and timing down. 

    He has played a fine 2B, overall, and shows real potential at the spot. He's gotten better and better. His bat has come alive after a slow start. He is a talented, versatile, and dangerous hitter. And he is absolutely one of the best players in this team. And he is young enough to believe he is part of the future. 

    It might be unfair to label him as a new leader for the Twins future. Everyone is an individual. Does Polanco have the personality to step forward and fill that role? I don't know. He doesn't have to be Cruz in personality. He comes across, to me, as hard working and determined and professional. Does he want to be more vocal? Can he be? Is it his time to just step forward? Or will he just lead by example? Even if he does it quietly, yes he could be a leader going forward.

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    3 hours ago, DocBauer said:

    ...Molitor believed he could play SS and put him out there. And let's face it, all of us have seen far worse SS at the ML level than Polanco...

    As I recall, Molitor didn't believe Polanco was capable of playing short due to his arm, but he wasn't given a lot of choice in the matter. Molitor is on record talking about improvements in throwing and footwork Polanco had made as helpful, but it was often with the caveats it wasn't universally accepted Polanco was in the right spot at SS. 

    Also, I'm not sure I have seen a SS worse than Polanco. Trevor Plouffe's 2011 experience at SS grades out better than Polanco's 2016 in terms of UZR/150 and fielding percentage. Polanco was more error prone than Plouffe when they were both rookies playing SS.

    Polanco remains, literally, the worst starting shortstop in MLB from 2016-2020 with a UZR of -25.9 over 3.900 innings. No shortstop in MLB had a worse average UZR/150 (-11.0) and played over 1,500 innings over the same span. No shortstop has played as many innings as Polanco with such a low UZR/150 since the year 2000. Polanco stands alone at the very bottom. To get him out of the bottom 5, I had to drop the innings requirement to just 1,000 innings (less than a single full season) which expanded the number of players to 151 since 2000. Polanco was still 140th of 151 at that point.

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