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  • There's a Very Simple Solution to Minnesota's Shortstop Problem


    Nick Nelson

    But are the Twins willing to embrace it? 

    Image courtesy of David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

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    When the offseason resumes, Minnesota's front office will be feeling pressure to address its extensive needs on the pitching staff. But as things stand, they won't be able to dedicate their full attention to this focus.

    Because as things stand, the Twins don't have a starting shortstop. Nothing even resembling a feasible option or fallback plan. That is, unless they're willing to change their position on Jorge Polanco's ... position.

    A ready-made starter at shortstop

    Polanco was the starting shortstop on the American League All-Star team in 2019. Of his 596 games started in the majors, 470 have come at short. He played the position almost exclusively until last year, when he shifted across the diamond to second base.

    No one would deny this was a successful pivot for Polanco and the Twins. He was never a defensive asset at short, but showed standout ability at second, where he looked increasingly comfortable and natural over time. Polanco was able to shake off his power-sapping ankle issues and recapture his excellent standard of offensive production. 

    As a second baseman, Polanco got his career back on track and then some. He was the team's most valuable player.

    In light of this development, you can see why the Twins would be reluctant to turn around and reverse course. As Dan Hayes of The Athletic mentioned when I posed the idea on Twitter, "It was not lost on [the Twins] that Polanco’s health was not an issue after early May and that he responded well physically to second base."

    In Dan's well-informed estimation, moving Polanco back to shortstop is "somewhere around Plan M" for the Twins. And I believe it. But my question is ... should that be the case?

    Clearly the Twins are not diametrically opposed to playing Polanco at short. He was their primary backup last year and started there 26 times. It's a question of how willing they are to shift him back into regular duties, as a temporary solution to a pressing problem. Maybe the M in "Plan M" stands for...

    Making the best

    This Twins front office prides itself on being flexible, adaptable, and opportunistic. Through this lens, when you look at all circumstances, sliding Polanco back to shortstop makes a great deal of sense.

    Not only does his presence at second base leave a complete void on the shortstop depth chart – it also creates a logjam behind him at second. Luis Arraez is displaced to the point where he looks like a prime trade candidate. Behind him, young talents like Nick Gordon and Jose Miranda have nowhere to play regularly even if they're deserving. Top prospect Austin Martin also might be best suited at second.

    Moving Polanco back to short for the time being would free up second base for one or several of these players to step in and receive valuable playing time. Meanwhile, it would prevent the front office from having to make a desperation-fueled move to address the shortstop vacancy.

    What else is out there?

    The high end of free agency at shortstop has mostly been picked over. The Twins aren't going to sign Carlos Correa and they're probably not going to sign Trevor Story. There are a handful of starting-caliber options remaining, in the Jose Iglesias and Andrelton Simmons mold, but they are not very inspiring. If just a few more names come off the board quickly when free agency fires back up, you're exclusively in backup territory. 

    Trades are an option, of course. But that means giving up assets that you could be using to acquire pitching.

    Finding a shortstop who's going to pair with Polanco, and give you a better keystone combo than Polanco and Arraez, will be very hard. I say that while being fully aware of the defensive shortcomings yielded by the latter arrangement.

    If nothing else, moving Polanco back to short would be a temporary fix designed to buy time. Until Royce Lewis demonstrates that he is (or isn't) the franchise's future at shortstop. Until they've had a chance to sort through second basemen like Arraez, Gordon, Miranda, and Martin. 

    Once a better shortstop option comes along, the Twins can move Polanco back to his preferred position across the bag. 

    Is this kind of back-and-forth player shuffling ideal or optimal? No, but "optimal" has sorta gone out the window at this point. Polanco's a veteran with plenty of experience at both middle infield positions. He's answered the call whenever needed. If anyone can handle the disruption it's him, and he'd be doing the team a hell of a solid.

    Sorting through solutions

    Even with the limited remaining options to address shortstop, I'm not saying this is the best one. If the Twins can find a viable taker for Josh Donaldson, or get a really good offer for Arraez, that changes the equation by alleviating the infield logjam. Similarly, if they can swing a no-brainer deal for a shortstop like Paul DeJong, I could get behind that.

    But if the "solution" to their problem is signing someone like Iglesias or Simmons as a stopgap, and then struggling to find at-bats for better players buried on the 2B depth chart behind Polanco ... is that really any better than pivoting back to the 2020 setup? 

    The simplest solution to the front office's current problem at shortstop is right in front of their face. Are they willing to embrace Plan M?

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    Polanco might not be the best defensive shortstop, but I'm really skeptical of the idea that something inherent about playing shortstop will injure his ankles or make him worse offensively. I think it's a reasonable solution, possibly the most reasonable solution.

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    I was saying this months ago. Compared to other shortstops, he will be making a pittance. Look how much less 2nd basemen make. Polanco is much higher paid relative to his 2nd base piers.

    This is the way to get more value out of the talent we have, as noted in the piece, there is a lot of talent blocked by Polanco at 2B, and Donaldson. Give Polanco a game or 2 off at SS by giving DH ABs, a game here or there at 2B, and a night off altogether every so often. Donaldson should get even more DH ABs, more nights off. Open up some playing time for the young guys.

    I still want them to sign Simmons up again. He can be behind Polanco on the depth chart, spot start at once a week or more, and if he bounces back to what he was he could be the SS pushing Polanco back to 2nd and be the bridge until they assess Royce.

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    26 minutes ago, Hyvuss said:

    Whoo… Polanco and Arraez up the middle will be tough to watch defensively. I suspect the FO is gonna try to help out their two (three?) young starting pitchers and get a solid defender at SS.

    The Twins did this last year, a guy who ranks 13th all-time on dWAR per Baseball Reference, and he was criticized heavily for his lack of offensive output. 2.4 dWAR ain't good enough for some at a key defensive position.

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    First things first let’s get this lockout over with. The lockout will be 1 of three options for the Twins 1. No change 2. Positive change 3. Negative change. What if the 2022 season is aborted?

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    Agreed with some of the others here. If the key for the year is to develop the young starting pitching, having Polanco at SS and Arraez at 2B is not a good idea. If we're trying to win it all this year, with our best lineup possible, put them in. But, I think it is matter of taking a realistic look at the team and its goals for the year (competitive and developing vs. best batting lineup possible). 

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    WIth all these new electronics, I find myself messing around with them trying to figure out what they can do. 

    It doesn't take long for an adjustment here and an adjustment there to make things horrible with no clear path back. 

    I am always grateful for the default setting. 

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    How about the Twins suck it up and find a shortstop! This would be such a Twins like move to have Palonco go back to short because they are too cheap to find an actual solution. This is just a disaster waiting to happen if you move him back, Twins need to act like a real MLB team and trade for a real shortstop or get Story. 

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    There are other options. The twins should not go back to those two players. They will both be problems on defense. The twins should look for a trade. There are some possible s.s. available. When you have a winner at one position like polanko. Don't change what's working.

     

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    "But if the "solution" to their problem is signing someone like Iglesias or Simmons as a stopgap, and then struggling to find at-bats for better players buried on the 2B depth chart behind Polanco"

    When is the last time the Twins struggled to find at-bats for better players buried on any depth chart?

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    Did Polanco's hitting last year improve because he was at second base?  Or did it improve because he was healthy?  Got a feeling it was more of the later.  Some maintain he was healthy because he was at second.  Could be, but we don't know that.  Maybe he was healthy because the previous surgery fixed the problem and he would be healthy at either position.

    Also believe if they would put Arraez at second and leave him there, his defense would be adequate.  Not a gold glove candidate, but better than what we have seen while playing all over the place  

    I have no problem with this solution and it beats the heck out of spending trade capital to acquire a player who could/should be replaced a year later by Lewis.  Use that trade capital to get a good young pitcher.

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    Is there a consensus that playing SS is what caused Polonco's injury issues and that playing 2nd base will make it that much less likely he will have them?  I am not saying we need to move Polonco back, but when healthy his bat plays well anywhere, and despite being below average defense, his bat is above average to level it out.  Now, if there is a strong belief by the medical staff that SS is what led to the ankle issues then I would agree to keep him off of SS.  

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    The "very simple solution" is to just sign Trevor Story or Carlos Correa but we know the Twins won't open their pockets to do that. (Even though that was the purpose of building Target Field). When they add Free Agents like Bundy, Cotton, Megill, Rodriguez and Fisher we know what their plan is. (Cheap, Cheap, Cheap). Could you imagine how many more fans would be in the stands if they would have signed just a couple of these guys: Robbie Ray, Marcus Stroman, Eduardo Rodriguez, Jon Gray, Kevin Gausman, Max Scherzer, Marcus Semein, Corey Seager, Javier Baez, Story or Correa? Don't think they could have? Detroit did! Texas did! If the current crop of up and coming prospects don't pan out, (if that is their plan) then we can kiss another decade of baseball goodbye because they won't use the FA aspect of the game to their advantage.

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    Good topic for debate, Nick.  Not sure I would put Polanco back at short for a couple of reasons.  First, teams serious about contending don't move a player from a position he plays extremely well and with which he is comfortable to a position where he has struggled in the past defensively.  By doing so, you effectively weaken both positions.  Better to find someone to play shortstop that plays it well and leave Polanco at 2nd.  Second, I don't think moving Polanco to second necessarily kept him healthier physically, but I think it kept him healthier mentally.  I think he was more relaxed at second which allowed him to feel more comfortable at the plate.  Third, while I agree the infield positions are not quite as important defensively given the new realities of the game, I do think if we are going to have a bunch of young pitchers on the mound this year, I would make sure we have a sound infield defense to avoid putting even more pressure on them with sloppy infield play.  If we had a deep and experienced staff, it would be less of an issue.  I would sign or trade for an excellent defensive shortstop, even one who offers little at the plate.

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    Thanks for this winter wakeup posting.  I have seen my posts suggesting this attacked so I could imagine that your bigger audience would have a strong reaction.  I am for this as it opens the obvious logjam.  But it also raises another question - what is a SS now?  I knew a SS in the past and could envision him on the left side of the field.  Now the SS might even be on the right side of second.  With the emphasis on flyballs the SS must get fewer chances and certainly fewer DPs.   How many chances to they have now compared to the past.  I could not find out these things, but I continue to be puzzled over which positions are the most important now compared to the past.  CF is always important, C is always important.  Those two did not change, but now the 2B sometimes plays on the SS side, the 3B is often in the SS hole.  Very confusing.  So the question is Polanco or ???  I am fine with Polanco.

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    Great article.  Well thought out.  The best solution for me would be to sign a FA shortstop in the moderate price range.  So at this point we Dont have a shortstop, not sure at second base at least defensively.  Oh yeah we also don't have a major league pitching staff.  Add that into a very good center fielder that plays less than half the games over a 7 year career, and it potentially points to a disastorus 2022 season, if there is one.  Not much at this point to get too excited about.

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    I can only assume by all these discussions regarding shortstop, when Nick Gordon is never considered a viable answer, that the guy trips over his own feet, airmails throws to first, resembles a croquet hoop on hot grounders, or forgets to bring his glove if he's sent out to short.

    So much angst when even the best shortstop in the world can't snag a home run. The issue is pitching, guys. Pitching.

    Leave Polanco at second if that's his magical position, stick Gordon at short and if he's still committing two or three errors every game at mid-season, bring up one of the kids to take over. In the meantime, sign a pitcher that can go an other wordly (in Rocco's world) six innings with an ERA under 3.00. Every shortstop looks better if the opposing hitters aren't slapping the guy on the mound around like the Gestapo.

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    Interesting take, but we need to leave Polanco where he is. We're trying to develop a contending team. Polanco is an elite 2B for a contending team, good with the glove, very good at the plate. Don't mess with that. Boring as it sounds (and is), we need to get good fielding SS to help out a developing pitching staff. Simmons might be the best choice for another year, Niko Goodrum or Igelsias might also work. 

    I understand wanting to open up a spot for Arraez but let's not forget that his physical limitations and injury history suggest that he's a 400-500 AB guy at best. He's not a 140-150 games a year player. Plenty of spots for his bat starting with 80 games a year at 3B since Donaldson is a half time player in the field because of HIS physical limitations. Add 20-25 when Polanco plays SS to spell whoever starts there and another 20 at DH and you've hit Arraez' limit.  And that's without giving him any games in LF. You don't need to move Polanco to a position he can't play well to get Arraez his 400-500 ABs. 

    Now if the goal is to get ABs for Miranda or Martin THIS YEAR, the solution is different - trade Donaldson or Sano. The former opens up 3B, the latter LF since Kirilloff can then play 1B. You can't DH Sano a lot because we need the DH spot for Donaldson half time and he's the #4 hitter.  To me, if we want to open up a spot for regular at bats for Miranda and/or Martin, trading Sano or Donaldson is the answer. That opens up LF for one of them to run with a spot. I hope the FO is exploring that as we speak.

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    Yes indeed it would be a easy answer. We wouldn't need to sign a big $ FA, No blow back from small but loud fan base to sign a bounce back candidate Simmons or a poor FA SS candidate or FO wouldn't have to trade for a true SS (which they hate to do). But is it the sane thing to do?

    Why would this FO negate the best move they have ever made? SS isn't his natural position, he's confused how to throw to 1st base (which causes throwing errors) and physically his ankles can't  take it (with every game shows digression). Bad ankles directly effects his hitting which negates the advantage of his hitting prowess. 2B you need someone who has range and Arraez has none. It pains me to see GBs that bleed  through the infield when he plays there, 2B is his worse position.

    Many times in life the easiest solution isn't the best. I'd rather go the less easy routes. Trade for a true SS or Sign Story or Simmons or even Goodrum and let him, Palacio and Lewis fight it out. The last has a lot of ?s and is risky but is better than the recipe for disaster which is putting Polanco back at SS.

    This is a good debate for "forever Arraez no matter what" fans, which can't get over their sentiment for Arraez. Although it's entertaining to watch his ABs, his best value for the Twins is what he can give us via an injunction  trade for frontline SP. Putting Polanco at SS and Arraez at 2B is no viable option that should be entertained.

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    1 hour ago, RJA said:

    Good topic for debate, Nick.  Not sure I would put Polanco back at short for a couple of reasons.  First, teams serious about contending don't move a player from a position he plays extremely well and with which he is comfortable to a position where he has struggled in the past defensively.  By doing so, you effectively weaken both positions.  Better to find someone to play shortstop that plays it well and leave Polanco at 2nd.  Second, I don't think moving Polanco to second necessarily kept him healthier physically, but I think it kept him healthier mentally.  I think he was more relaxed at second which allowed him to feel more comfortable at the plate.  Third, while I agree the infield positions are not quite as important defensively given the new realities of the game, I do think if we are going to have a bunch of young pitchers on the mound this year, I would make sure we have a sound infield defense to avoid putting even more pressure on them with sloppy infield play.  If we had a deep and experienced staff, it would be less of an issue.  I would sign or trade for an excellent defensive shortstop, even one who offers little at the plate.

    I suggest we are not serious about competing. Therefore I could see this happening. I prefer leaving him at 2B and starting Nick Gordon if we aren't serious, and are looking for a stopgap for 3-6 mo, or a year. Pohlad must have told Falvey to hold his fire, knowing the owners were going to play hardball. Will know more after today's proposal I guess.

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    This article is stupid. Polanco is not and has never been a shortstop. Even with everything Polanco has done to improve his game at a position he is incapable of covering, he's still a very poor shortstop.

    No shortstop in the past 20 years has a lower UZR/150 with the equivalent of 3 years at the position. Polanco stands alone as the worst starting shortstop in the past 20 years.

    Why not just put Miguel Sano at shortstop?

     

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