Following the 2019 season, the Minnesota Twins had an important decision to make in free agency. They were coming off a season where they had the most prolific home run-hitting team of all time but needed help on the mound. But after failing to sign a top-tier pitcher, they decided to lean into their offense.
They signed Josh Donaldson, who received the largest free-agent contract in franchise history. Adding a four-year, $92 million commitment to their lineup wasn’t a terrible idea, but it also was spent on a 33-year-old corner infielder with an injury history.
While Donaldson’s contract hasn’t been a total bust, it may give the Twins’ some sticker shock heading into this year’s class. But this year’s group is different. If the Twins are going to spend, it should be on the shortstop position.
It’s understandable if fans believe shortstop isn’t a pressing issue for the Twins. Jorge Polanco is coming off one of the greatest seasons in franchise history for an infielder. With Royce Lewis and Austin Martin in the pipeline, the organization isn’t short on options.
So the Twins have Polanco as a stopgap until Lewis or Martin are ready. But Lewis hasn’t played an organized game in over two years. The Alex Kirilloff experiment should give Minnesota pause when promoting a player with no at-bats above Double-A.
The Twins also would benefit from having Polanco focus on one position. Yes, he was much better defensively after recovering from an ankle injury that required surgery after the 2019 season. But shifting him around the infield would make things more difficult than they have to be.
That leaves the Twins in the market for a shortstop, and this class is the perfect opportunity to get one.
Unlike the Donaldson signing, the free-agent crop is bursting with payers in their prime. By investing in a player in their late 20s, the Twins can enjoy some of their primes before having to consider an extension. It also includes players who fulfill Minnesota’s need to add defense, but they get the job done at the plate.
That includes Carlos Correa, who is MLB Trade Rumors’s top-ranked free agent this offseason. He is coming off a season where he ranked sixth among all shortstops with 12 outs above average and hit .279/.366/.485 with 26 homers, leading the Houston Astros to the World Series. At age 27, there’s plenty of gas left in the tank.
The same can be said for Corey Seager, who appears to be on his way out of LA. The Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop has posted an OPS over .900 in each of the past two seasons. If it weren’t for a broken hand, he could have better numbers that prompted the Trea Turner acquisition. He’s a former NLCS and World Series MVP. The Twins could do worse.
Another target is Javier Bàez, who was one of the heroes that ended the Curse of the Billy Goat. Last August, the Chicago Cubs traded him to the New York Mets, but he hit .299 with nine homers over his final 47 games. After finishing No. 1 in outs above average in the 2019 season, Báez also fulfills the Twins’ defensive requirement.
Then there’s Trevor Story, who was the kind of player that would have been a prime pickup before this season. Even after a tough year, Story still holds a career .863 OPS. His average has floated around the .290 mark for each of the previous three seasons.
None of these players will come cheap, and the odds of them accepting a one-year prove-it deal aren’t great. But acquiring a player in their prime is a better investment than signing a player heading into their mid-30s.
Minnesota needs to avoid another Andrelton Simmons signing. He was terrific in the field but was an issue at the plate and in the clubhouse. By signing Marcus Semien, you’re getting a player who will be 32 on Opening Day and has had an up and down career.
The Twins can’t afford to sit on their hands and wait for value this offseason. The shortstop market is a perfect place to get it done. If they can land one of the top players, they could vault back into contention in 2022.