As this disappointing season comes to a close, the Minnesota Twins are looking to the future and making some decisions at key positions on the roster.
Some of the positions in question were expected, like the starting rotation and bullpen, but one spot that the Twins front office heads Derek Falvey and Thad Levine probably weren’t expecting to look at again is at shortstop. The Twins’ plans at short were thought to be set for years once their top prospect Royce Lewis eventually arrived in the majors. As we all know, things haven’t quite gone as planned.
The initial idea was to move last season’s shortstop over to second base full-time, allowing Lewis and Jorge Polanco to fill up the middle of the infield once Lewis established himself in the majors. But the No. 1 overall pick in 2017 still needed more time in the minors before he could take on that mantle, so the Twins brought in Andrelton Simmons. A shortstop with a dependable glove but something to be desired at the plate, the Twins signed Simmons to a one-year deal, allowing him to serve as a stopgap for Lewis until 2022.
While the move to bring in Simmons has been a disaster, on paper, it made sense to sign him last winter to avoid rushing Lewis to the majors and to boost their fielding ability. Keep in mind that the front office probably had Polanco’s disastrous error at short in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series fresh in their minds. They probably thought that the loss in offense would be made up for with Simmons’ glove. But Simmons has not been good this season. He’s posted a .225/.288/.277 slash line with just two home runs and a minus-0.3 fWAR. But Simmons’ shortcomings don’t matter at this point because he won’t be back next year.
The hope was for Lewis to take on the position, but he suffered an ACL injury in spring training and missed the entire season. The injury likely means he won’t be ready to start on opening day next season. It would be a big ask to immediately call up Lewis right after an ACL tear and expect him to hold his own against big-league arms. Especially after the highest level he’s reached is Double-A, and that was 33 games back in 2019. Now the Twins have a hole at a key spot next year.
There’s also another wrinkle that was added to the shortstop equation in late July, Austin Martin. Last year’s No. 5 overall pick was sent over to the Twins in the José Berríos trade and slashed .243/.385/.374 with three home runs in 115 at-bats since debuting in Wichita. Bringing him in at shortstop would jump-start the team’s young core that the front office has been building since taking over in October of 2016.
But while the top-tier prospect has Twins fans excited, it’s unlikely he would debut on opening day next year. Like Lewis, he would still need more time to develop in the minor leagues, and the Twins haven’t typically accelerated rookies through the system under Falvey and Levine. They also haven’t made a long-term commitment on what position he would play between shortstop and center field. Since being traded to the Twins, Martin has played 15 games each at both positions in Wichita.
So do the Twins go after another free agent to serve as a stopgap again? The upcoming free-agent class has an elite-level of talent on top, with Marcus Semien, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, and Javier Baez all hitting the market. But all of those stars are going to want lucrative multi-year contracts, not a one-year prove-it deal.
The remaining pool is limited, but there are still some options at shortstop who would be more willing to take a one-year deal, reset their market, and come back next year when there isn’t as much top-end talent available. Keep in mind the Twins paid Simmons $10.5 million, so they aren’t afraid to pay for a rental player.
What are their short-term options? Miguel Rojas would be a nice addition to the Twins lineup. He is having a solid season with the Miami Marlins, hitting .270/.382/.402 and a good outs above average score of 0. Freddy Galvis is another shortstop the Twins could pursue. He was traded from the Baltimore Orioles to the Philadelphia Phillies this year and is hitting .241/.300/.411 with a 1.3 fWAR. It’s unlikely that either would sign an extension with their current clubs, and a chance to play on a talented Twins lineup could be enticing for players looking for a one-year deal.
If the Twins don’t feel like going for the mid-level guys, some classic bargain bin options make sense. Guys like Andrew Romine, Jose Iglesias, or old friend Ehire Adrianza could fill in. All of them are defensive players with questionable bats. If the team goes in this direction, it would mean they didn’t want to meet the price of the mid-level players, or they feel confident that either Lewis or Martin can crack the big leagues at some point next season.
Another option could be to move Polanco back to shortstop for next season. He already knows the position, and that would allow Minnesota to move utility-man Luis Arráez back into second base, a middle infield combination that the Twins fielded for most of the 2019 and 2020 seasons. That would make the most sense for the team from a salary perspective and allow them to focus on other areas of the roster.
The issue with this strategy is that the Twins moved Polanco away from shortstop to allow Lewis to claim it, and he would have to go back to second base eventually. Polanco has been Minnesota’s most consistent hitter all season, and it doesn’t feel wise to mess with him. His defense has been fine at second base, but he has a minus-1 outs above average mark when he’s filled in at shortstop this season.
No matter what the Twins decide to do at short next season, they have options. They could play the young prospects, move Polanco back to shortstop, or bring in another stopgap. It might just depend on how strong the team feels they can contend in next year. But the position will be an offseason move outside of pitching that could play a big role in Minnesota’s ability to bounce back in 2022.