MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins already had a starting shortstop and a starting second baseman before they signed a one-year, $10.5 million deal with free agent Andrelton Simmons on Sunday -- but having too many up-the-middle players is certainly a good problem for a contending team to have, especially considering the extent of the Twins' injury issues over the last two seasons.
Who starts at second base?
Arraez was the unquestioned starter in 2020, but the current plan is for Polanco to slide over from shortstop and assume the starting second-base role. Arraez will play in a multipositional capacity and move around between infield positions, with the possibility of additional appearances in left field. The Twins checked in with both Polanco and Arraez about the Simmons deal -- and both are on board with the plan.
"I talked to Polo that night, and really, the way that discussion went was very, very straightforward, where we explained that we were signing Andrelton, how it would affect Polo and frankly, Polo, he stepped up almost immediately as a teammate, as a competitor," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "He said, ‘I want to be the best second baseman I can be. If that’s what's best for the team, I want to do what’s best for the team.'"
This doesn't push either Polanco or Arraez into uncharted territory. Though Polanco has almost exclusively played shortstop in the Majors, he played nearly as many games at second base (200) as at short (343) during his Minor League career, though the last time he saw regular action at second was in 2016. Meanwhile, Arraez played mostly second base in the Minors, but moved around according to need during his '19 rookie season, when he played 17 games at third base, eight at shortstop and 21 in left field.
"We have a great relationship not just with Jorge, but with his agent as well, and we know that Jorge had so much history at second base coming up through the Minor Leagues," president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. "He’s really comfortable there. He’s really natural."
All this will be worth it for the Twins, because Polanco has graded out as one of the worst defensive shortstops in the Majors throughout his career and has been worth negative defensive runs saved in every season at the Major League level. Meanwhile, Simmons has been worth the most defensive runs saved of not only any shortstop, but also among all MLB players over the past decade. Polanco has been worth minus-34 DRS over his career, while Simmons has been plus-191.
Will the Twins be able to get Arraez enough at-bats?
In essence, this move means that the Twins have replaced Marwin Gonzalez with Arraez, who might not be as good of a defender but has a better bat and is nearly a decade younger. If the Twins' usage of Gonzalez over the last two seasons was any indication, finding playing time for Arraez won't be a problem.
Consider, for example, that Gonzalez played in 53 of the Twins' 60 games last season, tied for third-most on the team behind Eddie Rosario and Polanco. Injuries are a way of life in any season, and Twins manager Rocco Baldelli has also shown the desire to give his starters regular days off to keep them fresh throughout the grind of the season.
There should be more opportunity for Arraez in 2021 because the Twins have injury questions around their infield. Polanco has been one of the Twins' more durable players over the last two seasons, but he is coming off ankle surgeries in consecutive offseasons and was known to be playing at far from full health through large stretches of '19 and '20. Josh Donaldson struggled with calf injuries in his first season with Minnesota, and the club has indicated that it could ease up on the veteran's usage earlier in the season.
And though Arraez rarely played in the outfield as a Minor Leaguer, his ability to play left field in a pinch could come in handy following the offseason departure of Rosario, though he likely won't be a primary replacement there due to the likely presence of both Brent Rooker and Alex Kirilloff on the roster at various points in 2021.
Still, count on the Twins to find ways to get Arraez and his career .331/.390/.429 performance into the lineup on a regular basis -- and keep in mind that considering Arraez's knee issues over the last two seasons, more measured usage could help him stay on the field, too.
"Luis echoed the same sentiment [as Polanco]," Baldelli said. "'Whatever you need me to do, I’m going to be ready. Anytime I’m in the lineup, wherever I’m playing, I’m happy. You know that. I’m going to be ready to go.' So it makes things easier on the staff and on the organization when you have guys with that kind of character who are willing to do anything to win.”
Will Arraez be as much of a super-utility player as Gonzalez was?
No, but that's all right. For one, Gonzalez saw much of his action at first base, while Arraez has made just one professional appearance there (in Rookie-level ball, in 2014). Arraez is also much less seasoned in the outfield, which he essentially learned on the fly as a rookie in '19 to keep his bat in the lineup.
Fortunately, the Twins have less of a need in the outfield and at first base in 2021, and more of a need around the infield, which lines up nicely with Arraez's skillset. The Twins have a glut of outfielders, with Jake Cave and LaMonte Wade Jr joined at the MLB level by Rooker, Kirilloff and potentially even prospect Trevor Larnach at some point. It helps that Rooker and Kirilloff can also play first base, lessening the need for help at that position from the utility player.
It's likely a stretch to have Arraez play at shortstop, but the Twins still have Polanco available to back up Simmons when needed.