Safe to say, the post-lockout Minnesota Twins have been anything but quiet.
On Saturday, it looked like they fixed their shortstop situation when they acquired Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Ronny Henriquez from the Texas Rangers. The Twins added a cheap shortstop option under contract for the next two seasons until Royce Lewis or Austin Martin were ready. Kiner-Falefa’s defensive ability paired with Josh Donaldson at third looked like a solid upgrade from last year.
But Derek Falvey and Thad Levine had other plans. They sent Donaldson and Kiner-Falefa to the New York Yankees in what appears to be a salary dump to get out of the near $50 million left on Donaldson’s deal over the next two seasons. The nature of the move alone raised eyebrows, but the Twins got two potential starters in return in Gio Urshela and Gary Sanchez in the trade.
With just one move, Falvey and Levine have overhauled the left side of the infield, the middle of the order, and the team’s expectations. The other side of the infield looks set with Jorge Polanco at second paired with either Miguel Sanó or Alex Kirilloff covering first base. So what are the Twins’ options now to rebuild half of their infield?
The last handful of days puzzled those who follow the Twins. On the positive side, the makeover gives the team a blank canvas to hit a soft reset financially with no major contracts now on the books. Minnesota’s payroll sits at $72.2 million, a nearly $50 million drop from Opening Day in 2021. There are plenty of options they can pursue.
The path of least resistance may be to solve the problem internally. Urshela could slot in as the team’s everyday shortstop. He had some experience at the position, playing in 28 games at shortstop for the Yankees last season. Third base would open up for prospect Jose Miranda. Minnesota’s No. 7 prospect according to MLB.com had a breakout in Triple-A St. Paul, slashing .343/.397/.563 with 17 home runs in 80 games for the Saints last season.
All Urshela needs to do is hold down the position until either Lewis or Martin establishes himself as the shortstop of the future. Urshela is under team control until 2024 as a relatively cheap option who can play other positions around the infield. That would give the Twins another flexible fielder, especially if Miranda isn’t the answer at third base.
Playing Urshela at shortstop wouldn’t be the most efficient place for him in the infield. That’s a big reason why the Yankees opted to trade him. Overall, he isn’t a great fielding option at shortstop. Urshela recorded a -1.2 ultimate zone rating or UZR (league average is 0) but could be seen as a stopgap option.
Miranda is versatile but doesn’t boast high fielding numbers either, with a 2.50 ranger factor/9 innings in St. Paul. Keep in mind that the American League leader in that category last season in the AL was Kiner-Falefa, who the Twins just traded to New York, with a 4.30 RF/9 clip.
The internal option might be Minnesota’s default, although it seems highly likely that this is not the route the team goes down. The defense could suffer at shortstop if the Twins choose this option which would be out of character considering they prioritized defense in moving Polanco from shortstop to second base. Both are fine third base options, but shortstop will need someone else to play the position.
Another option could come from the free-agent market. The front office has strayed away from big multi-year free-agent contracts outside of Donaldson. If the Twins are serious about contending this year, bringing in someone like Freddy Galvis or Jonathan Villar to play short won’t cut it. Landing a big-time free agent could re-engage a Twins fan base that has soured on this season’s outlook after yesterday’s Donaldson trade.
Carlos Correa and Trevor Story are the top two free-agent prizes. Correa looks to head off the market soon. There are reports that he’s returning to the Houston Astros now that the luxury tax numbers have been raised. On the other hand, Story has some Twins steam already. Joel Sherman of MLB Network reports some executives believe the Twins are in play for the former All-Star and Gold Glove winner.
Story to the Twins all of a sudden looks more plausible. Minnesota has the cap flexibility to meet whatever number he wants and can accommodate Story’s request to play shortstop. However, if they sign him to a long-term contract, it could impact Lewis and Martin’s career path. But bringing in a player at Story’s caliber on a big-money deal could cause the Twins to reevaluate the future.
In addition, Story is still in the prime of his career at age 29. He slashed .251/.329 /.471 with 24 long balls and a 3.5 fWAR. Along with his bat, Story is still solid as a shortstop after fielding a 3.6 UZR while recording nine DRS in 2021.
A potential roadblock to Story coming to Minnesota is that being a top free agent comes with many potential suitors. There is no guarantee he would want to be in Minnesota even if the numbers are higher. However, if the Twins have a list of their potential options to move forward on that side of the infield, building around Story seems like a must-have option after losing a big name in Donaldson.
The trade market is the final avenue for the Twins. Falvey and Levine already traded for one shortstop option in Kiner-Falefa before trading him away. If they go back to the trade market, they will need to get creative with the limited options. Oakland Athletics shortstop Elvis Andrus would be an excellent addition. The A’s are selling off pieces left and right, so why not bring along a starting shortstop too?
Andrus might not be the player he once was in Texas, but he can still be a reliable stopgap shortstop option. In 2021, he slashed a .243/.294/.320 with three home runs and a 1.1 fWAR. However, his defensive fielding has gone down with a -0.4 UZR and a -10 defensive runs saved clip.
Andrus is under contract for this season and will make $6.75 million in 2022. He also has a player option for $15 million in 2023. That high salary mark could make trading for him a bit riskier because one of the team’s potential shortstops should be big-league ready by then, and the Twins would be paying a premium for a utility man.
Falvey and Levine shook up this roster for a reason. It feels like they have something in mind, whatever that path may be. The Twins might have backed themselves into a corner when it comes to the next shortstop and third baseman options, particularly at shortstop. But the team can gain the momentum back if they land Story. No matter what option, they hopefully bring in a player who can not just hit but also bring a much-needed defensive presence at one of the league’s most important spots on the field.