When Marcus Semien launched his 40th home run of the season on Saturday, it provided a front-row seat to an alternate universe. The Minnesota Twins had been linked to Semien throughout the past winter, but the 31-year old ultimately signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. Therefore, Minnesota went with Plan B: Andrelton Simmons.
By now, you know that the Twins would be much better off had they opted to sign Semien. But we’ve gotten past the point of lamenting their terrible offseason. Instead, the Twins need to look at such moves with an eye toward the future and how it can help them avoid the same mistake this winter.
When the Twins were looking for an upgrade at shortstop, they had defense in mind. Jorge Polanco was one of the worst defensive shortstops in baseball, logging 21 outs below average between the 2019 and 2020 seasons. A crucial error in their Wild Card loss to the Houston Astros accelerated the decision.
Semien was sought after thanks to his ability at the plate. He finished third in American League Most Valuable Player voting in 2019, and at 30 years old, he was still in the prime of his career. But last season didn’t go as planned for him, and few teams were willing to make a long-term commitment.
In other words, Semien was the type of free agent that the Twins covet. A one-year deal would have been enough to plug him into a lineup that has ranked fourth in the majors in home runs entering Sunday but also would have carried little risk if it didn’t pan out.
But the Twins’ main priority was improving their defense. While Semien was a star at the plate, he recorded three outs below average during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. This would have been a considerable upgrade for Polanco, but at $18 million, the Twins weren’t willing to compromise.
Instead, they brought in Simmons, who was more comparable to Semien than you would think. While Simmons was a year older, the two players posted similar non-power numbers.
The big difference between the two was defense. Simmons ranked third among shortstops, with 19 outs above average between 2019 and 2020. With $7.5 million in savings, the Twins could use that money elsewhere and decided to sign Simmons.
What looked like a wise move at the time of the signing didn’t pan out for the Twins. Aside from one of the worst offensive seasons from a shortstop in franchise history, Simmons has also brought off-the-field distractions such as his refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine and a visa issue that kept him out of this weekend’s series against the Blue Jays.
Put it all together, and Simmons turned out to be fool’s gold in the search for value.
Had the Twins signed Semien, they would at least have a shot to solidify their shortstop position. Instead, they go into this offseason trying to find a new shortstop. With Royce Lewis recovering from a multi-ligament knee injury and Austin Martin a year away from his debut, the best course of action will be to find a one-year stopgap in free agency.
The Twins could aim for the best possible solution to one problem or address several with the same player.
Trevor Story could be an option as one of the league’s best offensive shortstops who also ranked fourth in outs above average from 2019 to 2020. Although he ranks six outs below average, that number could rise on a better team but will likely require a multi-year deal.
Javier Báez is another option who, like Semien, has offensive upside but also ranked first among all major leaguers with 40 outs above average between 2019 and 2020. Like Story, Baez has slumped to 0 outs above average this season but could also be because of a poor supporting cast.
Even going after a long-term option like Corey Seager or Carlos Correa would make sense. It would open an avenue to trade Polanco or Luis Arráez to find pitching. With the Twins unlikely to find five major-league caliber pitchers this offseason, their best chance may be to lean into their offense rather than signing another defensive-first shortstop.