Aside from postseason success, Minnesota Twins’ infielder Jorge Polanco has seen it all in his eight years in the big leagues.
Minnesota’s longest-tenured player received a very early promotion back in 2014 and has since celebrated the team’s highest peaks and wallowed in their most depressing lows.
Now, he may be the Twins’ most intriguing trade chip as they inch toward the July 30th deadline.
Sure, other names on the squad will get more publicity thanks to their contract status. Most notably, shortstop Andrelton Simmons, designated hitter Nelson Cruz, and pitchers Michael Pineda and Hansel Robles are all in a contract year and appear to be of some value to hopeful contenders.
But Polanco’s recent play, his ability to be an offensive force at second base, and his reasonable contract make him a fascinating trade option.
The front office is certainly taking calls as they develop a plan going forward. The most realistic option lies somewhere between full-on fire sale and minor retooling. Therein lies Mr. Polanco.
After a disappointing, injury-hampered 2020 campaign and a rough start to this season, Polanco has kicked it into high gear. Since May 7th, the slugging middle infielder has hit .287/.353/.549 with eight homers and 18 runs knocked in.
That outpaces his stats from his All-Star 2019 season when he was a fixture for the Bomba Squad.
In particular, Polanco has crushed right-handed pitching. In his last 14 games, he has hit them at a .367 clip (11th-best in MLB) and a spectacular 1.187 OPS (eighth-best). Just in the last week, he has nearly as many home runs against righties (four) as he has strikeouts (five).
While 14 games is a small sample size, there’s no doubt that he’s had right-handed pitchers shaking in their cleats.
He’s no slouch against southpaws, either.
Against left-handed pitchers on the year, he has a 110 wRC+, meaning he’s performed roughly 10% better than a league-average hitter. In the last two weeks, he has the game’s 12th-highest line drive rate against lefties and he has put 45% of his swings in play. Long story short, Polanco has been hitting a ton of frozen ropes.
That’s something that seemed to be missing since the middle of the 2019 season. His swing just seemed incredibly off-balance, due in large part to an ailing ankle that required two separate surgeries in the last 20 months.
If his bum ankle is still hurting him, he certainly hasn’t shown it.
Another essential aspect to his offensive production is the fact that he has been doing it primarily as the starting second baseman.
There always seems to be a hitter or two every season who gets traded around the deadline and goes on an unexpected tear for their new team. We saw it a few years ago with J.D. Martinez going to the Arizona Diamondbacks and proceeding to belt an eye-popping 29 homers in 62 games. Two years later, Nick Castellanos was traded to the Chicago Cubs in July and had an OPS over 1.000 down the stretch.
The difference is that Polanco is becoming a hot hitter like those guys while playing a defensive position that is short on premier hitters.
There are currently only eight second basemen with a higher WAR than Polanco, and three of them are playing for non-contenders (the Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies, and Arizona Diamondbacks). That leaves a lot of openings for contending teams to improve their lineup by adding Polanco.
Maybe that’s the angle the Twins should play if they’re serious about finding a trade partner for him.
They can also use Polanco’s team-friendly contract as leverage to get a better return than some other cheap rental. He’s set to make a little less than $3 million for the rest of this season, $5.5 million in 2022, and $7.5 million in 2023. There’s a $10.5 million vesting option for 2024 if he makes 550 plate appearances or makes another All-Star team, and finally a $12 million team option for 2025.
Besides that last optional year of the contract, most teams would have a relatively easy time fitting Polanco into their payroll, especially if he continues to produce at a premier position. That makes his acquisition a realistic option for both small-market teams that tend to penny pinch and large-market powerhouses that want to avoid crossing the luxury tax threshold.
That’s good news for the Twins if they’re looking to sell, as more bidders means a better return.
Sure, dealing Polanco would sting at first, but the truth is that the Twins will need to deal something of value if they hope to get anything of value.
This doesn’t mean that the Twins should just sell Polanco to the highest bidder, no matter the return. The nice thing about the slugger’s play, combined with his team-friendly contract, is that it would benefit them just as much as any other team.
After all, barring a full-on fire sale, the Twins should consider themselves contenders for 2022. They’ll certainly need improved pitching and better luck avoiding the injury bug, but it’s not unreasonable to expect considerable bounce back next season.
The question is, will Polanco be part of that return to form, or will the Twins sell him off with the hopes of improving their squad even further down the road?