Picture this: You wake up on July 21st, and it’s a sunny summer day in the Twin Cities. The birds are chirping, and the bombas are flying. The Minnesota Twins have a 60-38 record and lead the division by a full three games. Jonathan Schoop is getting a day off after hitting a double and recording his 41st RBI of the season in the previous night’s game. And, yes, he’s donning a Twins jersey.
This is a scene from just two years ago, before the trade deadline of the highly successful 2019 season.
Feels like ancient history after the trials and tribulations of this year. But in reality, Minnesota’s offense looks somewhat similar to the Bomba Squad. However, one key difference has been the absence of Schoop, and there’s a case to be made that bringing him back into the fold this off-season could help turn things around.
Based on his track record of solid performance over the last three years, mixed with his veteran leadership and his likely affordability, he could return as the glue that holds the team together. And for a team that has evidently split at the seams this year, the Twins would love to stop reminiscing of better days in 2019 and start planning for better ones in 2022.
In Schoop’s first run with Minnesota, the second baseman from Curaçao played in 121 games. He had an exactly league-average bat (100 wRC+) in that time, belting 23 home runs in 433 at-bats. Really, the only reason that his counting stats tapered off in the second half of that season was due to the emergence of rookie sensation Luis Arraez.
While Schoop was certainly not a headliner that year, his stability helped solidify a lineup that broke the all-time team home run record. And although this year’s Twins have had valuable lineup flexibility with guys that play multiple positions (Arraez, Jorge Polanco, Alex Kirilloff, even Miguel Sano in a pinch), it’s a stretch to call them stable.
Barring an unlikely pursuit of one of the premier shortstops that are set to be free agents this winter (Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, and Javier Baez, among others), Schoop could be a value play to invest more money on other roster holes.
Upon returning to the Twins next year, Schoop could slot in as the starting second baseman against left-handed starters. That could move Polanco to shortstop and Arraez to the bench (just an 89 wRC+ against lefties compared to Schoop’s stellar 156). Since leaving the Twins and joining the Detroit Tigers last year, Schoop has improved his total offensive production by around 15% (114 wRC+ last season, 116wRC+ so far this year).
Two strengths have emerged for him in that time: the ability to mash fastballs and his success against starting pitchers when they face him for a third time. According to Inside Edge, Schoop is batting .354 on elevated fastballs this season and .362 on pitches 95 MPH-plus, good for fifth-best in MLB in both instances.
When facing a starter for a third time, he has a .704 slugging percentage (10th-best) and eight home runs since the start of last season, the most in MLB. That would certainly help a Twins offense with a reputation for scoring early in games before going cold.
It’s funny, really. He seems to get better every year, yet he always settles for a one-year deal for less money each off-season. The Twins could take advantage of that pattern while he’s still relatively young. At just 29 years old, it’s reasonable to bet on him remaining a consistent, complementary contributor on a good offense.
The investment in Schoop’s services would be very modest, considering the deals that he received the last two off-seasons ($6.5 million in 2020, $4.5 million in 2021). Depending on how he finishes this season, he’s probably in line for another one-year contract on the higher end of that range, or possibly a two-year deal with less value annually.
If the Twins could entice him to play for a hopeful contender in 2022, with regular playing time and a clubhouse that seemed to love him in 2019, he could solidify their lineup so that they can invest more resources on additions to the pitching staff. Depending on the moves that are made in the coming week and the off-season, the Twins will likely have at least three holes to fill in the rotation and a few more in the bullpen.
Signing a premier free-agent slugger like any of the shortstops mentioned earlier would be a fun jolt. But this year’s team has shown us all how quickly a depleted and/or ineffective pitching staff can sink a season.
The team is going to have to be creative if they truly view themselves as contenders next year. They’ll likely need somebody to fill the hole left by Nelson Cruz, both at the plate and in the clubhouse. Schoop won’t replicate Cruz’s offensive production, but his presence could allow for someone else to emerge in Boomstick’s wake. Plus, if the team can’t find its way back onto the rails next year, it’ll be easier to move on from a minimal commitment to Schoop rather than a mega-contract to a premier free agent slugger.
At the end of the day, Schoop isn’t going to make or break the team, but pitching will. The Twins should allocate as much of their budget as they can on reliable pitchers with reasonably attainable upside, and bringing Schoop back for another go-around can help them do that.
Otherwise, Twins fans could be left reminiscing about the glory days of 2019.