Set to play key role, Margot makes mad dash to camp

February 28th, 2024

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Needless to say, describes it as a “crazy day” when he was traded for the second time in three months. The Dodgers were playing a road Spring Training game on Monday, so Margot had to hurriedly drive the 45 minutes to his house, stuff everything in a suitcase and drive to the airport, because his agent had gotten him a same-day flight to Florida.

Per the CBA, he had 72 hours to report to his new team -- but no more than 17 hours after the trade was made official, Margot was already in his new clubhouse early Tuesday morning, having driven down from Tampa at the crack of dawn, asking if the Twins needed him to play that day.

“I’ve never seen someone make the Phoenix to Fort Myers trip that quick,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Never.”

“Him being able to show up today should tell you his character,” Byron Buxton said later that day. “Got traded yesterday and being on the plane and getting here, he actually asked [if he] was playing today. That’s something you don’t see very often, and just shows you the person he is and the character he has to make us better.”

For as quickly as Margot did arrive when the time came, the Twins waited until after Spring Training games had started to make this long-anticipated move to add a right-handed hitter to their outfield mix -- and in doing so, they found a fit that will both help balance their lineup against left-handed pitching and give them insurance in center field for Buxton.

It’s not a reactionary move to any developments involving Buxton by any means -- a healthy Buxton appeared in center field on Tuesday and was in great spirits following the game -- but given his history, it’s clearly sensible to have an everyday-capable backup option ready to step in if needed.

In the meantime, Margot also fits in as a right-handed complement to the Twins’ left-handed-hitting corner outfielders Matt Wallner and Max Kepler, likely Wallner in particular. Margot played a plurality of his games in right field for the Rays, but the current outfield construction could mean he’ll have to spend more time in left field for the Twins, and he could see more time there this spring as a result as he prepares to play all three positions.

“Just keep working,” Margot said through interpreter Mauricio Ortiz. “You have to adapt to the role that the team wants you to do. Just keep working and be ready.”

He’ll have to be ready to be first up if needed in center field -- where he has been an elite defender in the past -- since the player in his role last season, Michael A. Taylor, had to play 126 games in center in Buxton’s stead. Names like Taylor, Tommy Pham and Adam Duvall had been mentioned as possible fits on the free-agent market, but Margot also gives the Twins an experienced glove who can more than hold his own defensively.

Margot is a career .281/.341/.420 hitter against left-handed pitching, which is a much more on-base-oriented profile than the power-and-speed-heavy, all-or-nothing approach that Taylor brought to the role last season.

“There were other guys on the market that we felt like maybe they were more center-field oriented, but not really the corners [or] maybe not the left-right split we were looking for, things like that,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “So he just added a bunch of dynamics to the lineup that we already have in a way that we think fits this roster well.”

Though Margot’s defensive metrics scuffled over the last two seasons as he dealt with knee, hamstring and elbow issues, he said he worked “really hard” during the offseason to strengthen his body for Spring Training, and he was in workout action alongside his teammates on Wednesday, with the idea that he’ll soon progress into spring games.

Having worked alongside Jorge Polanco, Willi Castro and Carlos Santana in the Tampa area this offseason, Margot said he was excited to get to work under Baldelli, having heard “great things” about his new skipper -- and Falvey indicated that this addition could mostly complete the Twins’ group.

“This was a primary focus for us over the last little bit, was to see if we could find and add another guy to this mix that would help us,” Falvey said. “I would say that's, by and large, the big-picture items."