Polanco Approved Twins Shortstop Deal
Acquiring new starting shortstop Andrelton Simmons shakes up the Minnesota Twins infield, moving incumbents Jorge Polanco and Luis Arraez to other roles, but both players approved the free agent signing of Simmons before the deal was completed.
Thad Levine, the Twins general manager, told Sports Headliners that manager Rocco Baldelli received buy-in from Polanco and Arraez prior to bringing the Gold Glove winning Simmons to Minnesota. “That’s just the way he manages this team,” Levine said. “He is very transparent. He’s very communicative and he’s very upfront. The response from those guys was resoundingly positive. … I think they both felt they could learn a lot from Andrelton.”
During a nine-year career, Simmons has won four Rawlings Gold Glove Awards as a shortstop (2013 and 2014 with the Atlanta Braves, 2017 and 2018 with the Los Angeles Angels). He has also earned six Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Awards (2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019).
Simmons is the 11th player to win four-or-more Gold Gloves as a shortstop, and is one of only two at the position to win multiple Gold Gloves in both the American and National Leagues (joining Omar Vizquel). Since 2012, he leads all players in defensive runs saved (191).
Dave St. Peter, the Twins president, said improving the club’s defense was an offseason goal and targeting Simmons was part of the plan. “He’s a very special player, elite defender,” St. Peter told Sports Headliners. “Best shortstop in the game by every measure. So the idea of enhancing our defense has always been a target. There were multiple ways we could have done that but Simmons was always a guy that was in that conversation from the start of the offseason.”
On some clubs moving personnel around to make room for a new starter might not be well received, but in two years as Twins manager Baldelli has established a positive culture emphasizing a team approach. The 39-year-old skipper has teammates thinking about what’s best for the club, while knowing he will give everyone on the roster opportunities to contribute.
For Polanco that means after playing nearly 500 games at short for the Twins he is taking Arraez’s spot at second base as the team heads into spring training this month in Fort Myers. It looks like Arraez, after two seasons at second, becomes the club’s No.1 utility player seeing time at various positions. He will help fill the gap in replacing two utility players from last season, Ehire Adrianza and Marwin Gonzalez. Arraez has hit .331 and .324 in his first two seasons with Minnesota while seeing time not only at second but also in the outfield, third base and short.
“I think Rocco’s intent is to give Jorge Polanco every opportunity to play second base,” Levine said. “I think what we’ve seen the last couple years is how he has used (utility) guys…Luis Arraez is going to get ample opportunity to contribute and play. At what position has yet to be determined. I think we’ll be challenging him throughout spring training to enhance his comfort zone plying some other spots so that he can spell a bunch of guys and keep everybody fresh.”
Polanco struggled last season, at least partially because of an injured ankle. In the field his lateral quickness appeared diminished and throughout his MLB career his throws to first base have been inconsistent. His offensive production in 2020, including a .258 average, was off from past performance.
Polanco comes to spring training with two ankle surgeries behind him, with the most recent coming last fall. “I think he was meaningfully limited last year,” Levine said. “He is one of those players who plays through pain and never complains but I do think it really impacted him, especially at the plate last year. Also, with his lateral quickness. So he is in great shape right now and that is terrific news for the Minnesota Twins.”
St. Peter said Polanco, who hit .295 with 22 home runs in 2019 and once was rated by Baseball America as the best defensive infielder in the Twins minor league system, was dedicated in his offseason rehab. “He’s all in. He’s committed to putting in the work. We know what he can do offensively. I think a lot of it for him is going to be try to stay healthy. …”
With Simmons coming to the Twins on a one-year deal, the club has added an elite defender to match center fielder Byron Buxton. Buxton has won the club’s Defensive Player of the Year award four times. Last season he had a 1.000 fielding percentage (105 total chances) in 39 games (35 starts) in center field. His 11 defensive runs saved ranked second among major league outfielders and tied for fourth among all players (minimum of 300 innings played).
St. Peter considers catchers Mitch Garver and Ryan Jeffers “above average defenders.” Garver could be the regular catcher if he can revive his offensive numbers that nosedived in 2020 (hitting .167 after batting .273 with 31 homers in 2019). His reputation has been that of an offensive catcher.
“Oh, we think he is an above average receiver,” Levine said. “He’s done a tremendous job framing pitches. He’s always had the good arm so I think he’s really rounding into being a really solid defender.”
Being fortified with stingy defenders “up the middle” (catcher, short, second and center field) has forever been the gold standard for baseball teams. The Twins think they may have arrived. “We feel we have as strong a unit up the middle as anybody in the American League,” Levine said.
The club has made other offseason moves, re-signing key slugger and DH Nelson Cruz and adding pitching. St. Peter can offer no guarantees or predictions but his optimism about 2021 is evident.
“It’s an exciting time to be a Twins fan because I think you’ve got a club that is going to be amongst the better teams in the American League on paper,” St. Peter said. “And we’ll go to spring training with high hopes to…find a way to advance in the postseason and ultimately compete for a world championship.”