What are the Minnesota Twins going to do with Luis Arraez?
With his trademark headshakes and personality at the plate, the former starting second baseman has been a fan-favorite since coming up from the minors and beating out veteran Jonathan Schoop at second midway through the 2019 season. He has been an on-base machine, posting a career .390 on-base percentage due to his discipline at the plate.
But two things have been holding Arraez back so far: low power numbers and poor defense. Between him and then-shortstop Jorge Polanco, last year’s middle infield was limited defensively. In his two seasons, Arraez’s defensive runs saved above average sits at minus-six. We all remember Polanco’s disastrous play at shortstop that cost the Twins Game 1 of the Wild Card Series against the Houston Astros last October and forced the team’s hand in that direction.
In their first moves of the offseason, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine brought in the four-time Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons to shore up the middle infield. The move kicked Polanco over to second base and left Arraez as the odd man out — which he showed his displeasure in by liking a Tweet that wasn’t too happy with Arraez’s new situation.
It made sense that when the Twins signed Simmons, Arraez would slide over and become the new Marwin Gonzalez and fill the super-utility role after he left in free agency. That spot makes a lot of sense for Arraez, and he should make a big contribution to the Twins in it this season.
If the Twins don’t use Arraez that way, then what is his role going to be? It looks increasingly less like that one Marwin Gonzalez had and more like Ehire Adrianza’s role.
Gonzalez played in 167 out of 202 games over the last two seasons as the super-utility player. Adrianza only appeared in 127 games in that span. While Adrianza can also play the outfield, the Twins preferred to keep him in the infield when other options were available. Since Gonzalez arrived in 2019, Adrianza has only played the outfield seven times since and stayed in the infield last season.
Arraez has the ability to contribute both in the infield and at the corner outfield spots. He played 21 games at left field in 2019, and he has enough experience there that he could hold it down if Alex Kirilloff doesn’t start the season with the team.
But he might have a tough time cracking an evidently deep outfield. Kyle Garlick and Keon Broxton were brought in this season on minor league deals and have each been having a solid spring training so far. Both have made a good case for getting a spot on the 26-man roster come April 1st.
Broxton has been solid this spring with a .412 batting average and a 1.171 OPS in 12 games, and he could back up Buxton in center field. Garlick might not have as good a glove as Broxton, but in nine spring training games he’s logged three home runs, a slugging percentage of .895, and an OPS of 1.304.
This is a blessing and a curse for a team loaded with talent and depth at multiple positions. There are only so many spots and a lot of options at each of them. That’s not even mentioning other options like rookie Brent Rooker and veteran Jake Cave, who’s racked up 151 hits and 25 home runs with a .772 OPS in his three seasons in a Twins uniform.
In eight games so far this spring, Arraez played four games at second base, three games at third base, and just one in left field. There are still a couple more weeks left before the season starts, and manager Rocco Baldelli looks like he’s starting to ramp everyone up for the regular season. Maybe Arraez logs more time in the outfield before then, but it’s telling that the Twins haven’t put him out there more already.
Maybe it was just offseason theorizing to think they would use him in the outfield more now that his spot at second base belongs to Polanco. But Arraez brings enough production at the plate that you’d think the Twins can’t help but try to get him more at-bats somehow, right?
Arraez is a good player who deserves to get a healthy number of at-bats and avoid the title of backup infielder. There are plenty of teams around the league that would be penciling him in as their starting second baseman. But for a Twins team that’s trying to break the postseason drought and make a deep playoff run, last season’s fielding mistakes proved too costly, even if it wasn’t just on Arraez.
As baseball gets ready for the usual 162-game game season, the one thing you can count on is change and teams adapting their strategies on the fly. Injuries, poor play, hot stretches — plenty of things can happen to make teams change course. Issues like these usually work themselves out in the end.
Arraez will get his time to play and continue to give us those headshakes in the batter’s box. But with the season getting closer, it feels like Arraez could be the odd man out of a talented ballclub.