Twins

Should Jorge Polanco Go Back to Shortstop?

Photo Credit: Matt Blewett (USA TODAY Sports)

As the Minnesota Twins continue to wait for the lockout to end before potentially adding to their roster, there are still some big lingering questions. Starting rotation help and bullpen arms lead the list of needs, but the most significant issue may be who takes over as the starting shortstop.

That was Jorge Polanco up until last season. The Twins moved him to second base after the 2020 season to strengthen their defense at one of the most critical positions on the field. It became an issue the team wanted to resolve after losing a playoff game because of Polanco’s error in the late innings.

But one season later, many fans and those looking at this team wonder if Polanco should shift back over to shortstop. It’s been a chaotic offseason. There are no obvious young replacements and other parts of the roster that need more attention.

Andrelton Simmons was brought in on a one-year deal to fill that need, but the signing didn’t pan out. He slashed .223/.283/.274 with only three home runs in 131 games. His fielding ability also regressed to a career-low minus-0.1 ultimate zone rating (league average is at 0 UZR) after being at just above 10 the year before. He also committed 12 errors. Safe to say, it doesn’t look like Simmons is coming back to Minnesota.

The Twins have Royce Lewis and Austin Martin, two top prospects they are developing to be the franchise’s long-term shortstop potentially. Patience with these two is essential. Whoever becomes the shortstop will unlikely be with the Twins for most of 2022, if at all. Lewis hasn’t played in a live baseball game since 2019, and Martin still needs more time to develop in the Twins system.

Therefore, there is some logic in moving Polanco back to shortstop. He held that position from 2017-20, so theoretically, it wouldn’t be a tall ask for him to slide back over to shortstop. It could allow Luis Arráez to shift back over to second base full-time. Arráez was the second baseman for the second half of 2019 and all of 2020 before becoming a “super-utility” player in 2021.

Moving Polanco back to short would be a quick fix that could allow the Twins to focus on other parts of the roster. They need to rebuild a lackluster starting rotation and bullpen. Additionally, they could take a player like Arráez out of a log jam of young players vying for major league at-bats. At the same time, they would return to a core of middle infielders that helped the team win back-to-back division titles in 2019 and 2020.

However, the Twins could look to find the team’s next shortstop on the free-agent market. Even though some of the top guys like Javier Bàez and Corey Seager signed before the lockout, the market still has options that include All-Stars Carlos Correa and Trevor Story. While both would be welcomed additions to the Twins lineup, signing one of them to an expensive, long-term contract may not make sense because Lewis and Martin are close enough to the major league level even if they aren’t ready to start with the club in 2022.

Unfortunately, the free-agent shortstop market doesn’t have much outside the top guys. Even going to a lesser-caliber shortstop option would mean the possibility of signing up for a similar experience to what they got with Simmons last season. They’d be banking on defensive production but not an all-around good enough baseball player to warrant a full-time starting spot. There is a real possibility the Twins end up in a predicament with the position for 2022, and Polanco might be the easiest option.

With Lewis and Martin ostensibly competing for the long-term shortstop position, neither Correa nor Story are looking to sign a short-term contract. There is a scenario where both prospects could change positions to open up room for the Twins to sign a high-profile free agent. But that creates a domino effect. Suddenly Minnesota has to try to plug them and other young players in what could become a log-jam of a situation.

With all of that in mind, does that mean moving Polanco back to shortstop might not be the best move for the team or Polanco?

Minnesota’s second baseman is coming off one of his best seasons as a pro in 2021. He slashed .269/.323/.503 with a career-high 33 home runs after coming off a down year in 2020. Unlike his All-Star-worthy season in 2019, he played his best baseball in the second half of the season. After July 1, Polanco hit .283/.325/.570 with 24 home runs.

Polanco has shown that he can hit at this level before. However, it was a much-welcomed sign to the Twins after injuries impacted him last year. He also improved his fielding, or at least he better masked his deficiencies at second base. Using the full sample size of the 2019 season, Polanco had 22 errors and fielded at a minus-9.1 URZ, and a minus-10 defensive runs saved clip in 142 games at shortstop.

His defensive metrics looked better when he was at second base full-time last season. Polanco committed 12 errors while recording a minus-3.4 UZR and plus-3 DRS clip in 120 games during his first full season at second. While those numbers won’t win him a Gold Glove anytime soon, it is an improvement. Polanco’s shortcomings aren’t as magnified compared to shortstop.

Outside of the numbers, it might not make logistical sense for the Twins to move Polanco back to shortstop. The benefits of moving him back over might not outweigh the possible downsides of flip-flopping your team’s most productive hitter around the infield. Polanco played shortstop in 2020, then second in 2021. Does he then go back to shortstop in 2022 only to return at second for 2023?

That’s not to say Polanco couldn’t handle the assignment. But it might not be in the team’s, or Polanco’s, best interest to avoid training and preparing for different positions every season. Changing positions for an infielder can be more complex than in the outfield. Besides, the Twins moved him over to second because they knew his defense was a liability at one of the most critical defensive spots on the field. Moving him back to short could mean they are setting themselves up for the same result.

Polanco is one of the faces of the current Minnesota Twins roster. He was their most consistently productive hitter in 2021, and this team has some other areas and players to decide upon. The Twins shouldn’t overthink this issue and leave Polanco to keep growing as the team’s second baseman.

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