Miguel Sanó has been one of the faces of the Minnesota Twins for the last six seasons. The once-top prospect was considered a fundamental building block for a team looking to move on from multiple 90-loss seasons behind his lumbering power and rocket arm at third base. He will turn 29 years old next season, and this could be his last in a Twins uniform.
Since debuting in 2015, Sanó made an immediate impact as a big-time power hitter, launching baseballs on a team that flirted with their first playoff appearance in five seasons. He was a big reason the Twins made multiple playoff appearances over the last few years. Sanó has a career slash line of .238/.329/.491 with 161 home runs along with a .253 isolated power clip (.250 and above is considered excellent).
There is plenty to like about Sanó’s power, but it comes with the price of his well-documented high strikeout rate. He’s racked up 1,017 strikeouts over 2,788 career plate appearances. His strikeout rate is 36.5 percent over his six seasons in the major leagues.
But Sanó’s greatest downfall since entering the league has been that he’s a rollercoaster player who lives on incredible highs and frustrating lows. After a 28-home run, 2.4 fWAR season in 2017, Sano slashed .203/.270/.405 with just seven home runs in 163 plate appearances. The following season, he played so poorly that the Twins sent him to A-ball in Fort Myers. But Sanó rebounded nicely in 2019 when he clobbered a career-high 34 home runs along with a career-high 2.8 fWAR.
After it looked like Sanó found some consistency following a solid 2020, the ups and downs continued. After a slow start to the 2021 season where he slashed .129/.299/.226 with only two home runs in his first 77 plate appearances, Sanó got red-hot from mid to late May. His bat came alive, and he hit seven home runs, drove in 17 RBIs, and recorded a .587 slugging percentage in 69 plate appearances. But Sanó also had a stretch in July where he only hit one home run in a month and managed just a .388 slugging percentage over 70 plate appearances. He started to see himself lose playing time because of his rough stretches.
But as a positive, Sanó quietly salvaged his season with more playing time due to injuries to rookie Alex Kirilloff and the trade of designated hitter Nelson Cruz. He finished 2021 slashing .224/.315/.462 and hitting 30 home runs, the second-highest total for his career. Sanó also reduced his strikeouts to a career-low 34.7 percent.
Before the lockout created a lull during this offseason, the Twins were entering an important winter that would set the course for the 2022 and potentially the 2023 seasons. The Twins featured a good mix of up-and-coming prospects and veterans. Many who follow the team were left wondering if they would compete again next season or hit a soft reset and go full steam ahead for 2023.
If the Twins decide to give the young guys a chance over some of their veterans, Sanó could be an experienced player who winds up the odd man out on a team that’s looking towards the future.
Sanó has become a bit of a polarizing player during his career. To some, he’s a great talent who has been unable to curb his strikeouts, which are at a near record-breaking pace. Others see him as a generational power talent worth giving a spot in the lineup to even with his shortcomings. At this point, nobody will change their mind about Sanó because he is who he is.
The only question is, are the Twins comfortable going forward with Sanó now that he’s settled into a high power, high strikeout player? If last season is any indication, Minnesota might have tipped their hand by giving more of those first-base reps to Kirilloff when he was healthy. The easiest option might be that he slides in as the team’s designated hitter, but those reps could also go to third baseman Josh Donaldson if he hits more consistently and if young players like Jose Miranda start to demand more time at third base.
Sanó played well when Kirilloff was out of the lineup, so it’s not crazy to think that DH could be his role. If that’s what the Twins decide to do, it’s only a short-term solution because his contract is running out soon. According to Spotrac, Sanó will earn $9.25 million next season in the final year of his contract and has a team option for 2023 that includes a $14 million price tag and a $2.75 million buyout.
What if Sanó plays another up and down season that jeopardizes his playoff time? Is that something the Twins would be willing to sign up paying $5 million more for, even if they extend him to become the full-time DH? The Twins were ready to move on from Eddie Rosario because they weren’t interested in paying him a $10-plus million contract with younger prospects with upside who cost less available. Would they be willing to make an exception for the streaky Sanó?
The Twins sent Sanó down to Single-A in 2018 to try and rehabilitate his career, and he bounced back strongly in 2019. Then just a few years later benched the former All-Star for a rookie, and Sanó only played well when Kirilloff got hurt, and he got more at-bats. Minnesota has given him every opportunity to be consistent, and it feels like the Twins might be running out of patience following his weeks-long move to a platoon role in the middle of the season.
Trading Sanó has never been a realistic option – he was essentially overpaid once he signed his extension. So the Twins will likely have to hold onto the slugger until his contract is up. It’s hard to gauge the market on him fully, but there hasn’t been much reporting over the years that would suggest teams are lining up for the first baseman.
Miguel Sanó was once thought of as one of the core players that could turn the Twins franchise around. Now it feels like his time playing at Target Field could be nearing its end after seasons filled with both high highs and low lows. 2022 could be the final season he tries to club baseballs in a Twins uniform. Sanó still can have a long-term future in Minnesota, but he needs to show that he can be the consistently solid player that the Twins have always been waiting for him to become.