The Minnesota Twins caught a rough break on Sunday afternoon when Major League Baseball announced that shortstop Jorge Polanco was being suspended for 80 games for violating the league’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
Polanco reportedly tested positive for Stanozolol, the same substance that landed Ervin Santana on the suspended list in his first year with the Twins, back in 2015.
Polanco denied any wrongdoing, instead insisting that he’d thought he was given a Vitamin B shot, but out of respect and deference to his team and to baseball, he would take the suspension without appealing.
“We were disappointed to learn of the suspension of Jorge Polanco for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program,” the team said in an issued statement. “We fully support Major League Baseball’s policy and its efforts to eliminate performance-enhancing substances from our game. Per the protocol outlined in the Joint Drug Program, the Minnesota Twins will not comment further on this matter.”
The suspension comes at a tough time for the Twins, who already may need to have backup shortstop Eduardo Escobar covering third base with a potential suspension to Miguel Sano. In-house options to cover short include Ehire Adrianza and possibly non-roster invitee Erick Aybar, though neither offer the potential to be as dynamic offensively as Polanco was. Adrianza is a better defender than Polanco, while the 34-year-old Aybar once drew positive marks for his defense, but has seen that slide in recent years.
Polanco will be eligible to return for team game No. 81 — Saturday, June 30 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
He won’t, however, be eligible to play in the postseason, so if the Twins look to outside the organization, there are some intriguing options.
Jurickson Profar has seen his top-prospect status dissolve mostly due to injuries, but no outside executive knows more about him than Twins general manager Thad Levine. With Profar thoroughly buried behind Elvis Andrus at short, Rougned Odor at second, Adrian Beltre and Joey Gallo at third and with no plans to play him in left for the Rangers — where Willie Calhoun will wind up anyway — it might make sense for Texas to see what it can get for him.
Profar is also out of options, for what it’s worth.
Though with that said, Andrus can also opt out of the final four years, $58 million of his deal after 2018. Still, there’s been no reason to expect Profar — still just 25 — to take the next step in a backup role, as he’s hit just .229/.309/.329 in a 206-game smattering spread over four years with a two-year gap in there.
Other impending free-agent shortstops — via MLB Trade Rumors — include the following:
- Houston’s Marwin Gonzalez
- New York’s Asdrubal Cabrera
- San Diego’s Freddy Galvis
- Detroit’s Jose Iglesias
- Pittsburgh’s Jordy Mercer
- Boston’s Eduardo Nunez ($4 million player option for 2019)
- Tampa Bay’s Adeiny Hechavarria
Like pretty much all players, each of these guys has a strength or a weakness that Escobar and/or Adrianza may not have, though it’s hard to argue that any one of them other than Gonzalez represents a clear upgrade. He’s almost certain to not be available, as he’s opening the season as Houston’s starting first baseman due to an injury/suspension to Yuli Gurriel, and it’s not like the Astros don’t expect to also have something to play for down the stretch.
It’s also possible that prospect Nick Gordon, who was part of a sextet of players sent to minor-league camp on Sunday, might be the answer-in-waiting at short — especially if he gets off to a fast start in the minors.
It’ll certainly be a situation to monitor.
The Twins announced the third round of cuts on Sunday afternoon as the team continues to pare down to its 25-man roster for Opening Day. After these cuts, the Twins are down to 40 players in camp, including nine non-roster invitees — 17 pitchers (one NRI), four catchers (two), 12 infielders (four) and seven outfielders (two).
The following players were reassigned to the minor-league side:
- RHP Jake Reed
- RHP Myles Jaye
- C/IF Jordan Pacheco
- IF Nick Gordon
- OF Nick Buss
- OF Lamonte Wade
Reed was left off the 40-man roster when additions were made ahead of the Rule 5 draft, and was available to any MLB team willing to pony up a 25-man spot and $100,000. Fellow flamethrowers Nick Burdi and Luke Bard were taken instead, and appear likely to stick — though Burdi is hurt, so technically he won’t be on the active roster for Pittsburgh — while Reed will be sent to Triple-A Rochester again. Reed split the season with Double- and Triple-A last year, and while the numbers don’t jump off the screen at Rochester — 2.05 ERA, 7.3 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.14 WHIP — he was still a ready-made, relatively safe middle reliever for anyone willing to take that gamble. Reed allowed just one solo homer in six spring innings (1.50 ERA), though he did allow 11 baserunners (seven hits, four walks with a wild pitch for a 1.83 WHIP). It wouldn’t be at all stunning to see him in the big leagues sometime this season.
Jaye saw some big-league time with the Tigers last year, and it did not go well: 12.08 ERA, 4-10 K/BB ratio in 12.2 innings. Things weren’t too much better this spring, as Jaye posted a 5.63 ERA in eight innings with three strikeouts and six walks. He’ll likely work out of the bullpen at Rochester. He’s only 26, so maybe there’s still something in there.
Pacheco has MLB experience with the Rockies, Diamondbacks and most recently the Reds in 2016. He’s a jack-of-all-trades defensively, but has spent appreciable time at third and first base and a bit behind the plate catching as well (446.1 innings). He’s 32 and a career .272/.310/.365 hitter, though much of that comes in Colorado, a strong offensive environment that has tamped down his OPS+ marks (75 career).
Gordon ironically was sent down the same day Polanco was suspended, but it hardly mattered as the youngster was still ticketed to open the season in the minor leagues. It’s unclear where Gordon will start 2018, but to this point, he’s spent a year at every level he’s played. He spent all of 2017 at Double-A Chattanooga, where he slashed .270/.341/.408, but that line mars his first-half performance (.302/.370/.464) with his dreadful one after the break (.217/.292/.318). It’s possible he’ll play in the big leagues this year, and he may open the year at Rochester, but if he heads back to Chattanooga for just a little bit, that wouldn’t be shocking, either. Gordon didn’t hurt his case by hitting .409/.435/.636 with a pair of triples in 23 plate appearances this spring, either.
Buss has some MLB experience with both MLB teams, and is coming off winning the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A) batting title with El Paso (San Diego) last year, but the reality was that he was outplayed by Ryan Lamarre this spring and it’s still not clear if the Twins will have any room in the outfield, anyway. The starting trio is set, Robbie Grossman and Zack Granite are ostensibly jockeying for the role of fourth outfielder and newly-acquired Jake Cave is in that mix as well. At 31, Buss is no more than MLB insurance, sort of like Logan Schafer and Clete Thomas before him.
Wade’s an impressive, if unheralded player who could force his way into the fourth outfielder conversation sooner rather than later. He’s hit and walked everywhere he’s been in the minors — .295/.404/.437 in three MiLB seasons — and he was terrific in camp this year, hitting .304/.469/.391 with eight walks and three strikeouts. He’s played some center field but is probably better ticketed for a corner, but that’s no big deal with how the current roster is constructed. He’s also just 24, so don’t forget this name.