After the MLBPA & the owners reached a collective bargaining agreement on March 10, many anticipated a frenzy of free agent signings & trades. However, the traditionally conservative Minnesota Twins took things to another level. Always a candidate to shake things up after a hugely disappointing 2021 campaign, the Twins did that and then some. They started by trading effective, yet oft-injured Catcher Mitch Garver to the Texas Rangers for SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa & pitching prospect Ronny Henriquez. The the next day, things got crazy as the Twins started the day by dealing the 2021 26th overall pick P Chase Petty to the Cincinnati Reds for P Sonny Gray. They finished things off by flipping Kiner-Falefa, C Ben Rortvedt, & 2015 MVP 3B Josh Donaldson to the New York Yankees for C Gary Sanchez & UT Gio Urshela. Effectively trading Garver, Donaldson, Kiner-Falefa, & Petty for Gray, Sanchez, & Urshela does not make a ton of sense on the surface, and many Twins fans over the last couple days have been voicing their displeasure. But could these currently questionable moves be clearing space for something even larger?
The Smart Ones
The most popular trade amongst Twins fans was probably the acquisition of Sonny Gray. The 32-year-old hurler had spent his last three seasons as a Red, with an overall ERA just under 3.50. Losing a top prospect such as Chase Petty certainly stings, but Minnesota’s rotation problems are too striking to ignore. Gray’s numbers may have slipped each season in Cincy, but he’s still a reliable option for a team desperate for competent major league pitching. The Twins had long been expected to pick up a couple starters this offseason, and with a top heavy free agent class, it’s not much of a surprise they chose to go the trade route.
The Garver/Kiner-Falefa trade made sense in the moment as well; the Twins had a large hole at shortstop & Kiner-Falefa is regarded as one of the better defensive shortstops in the league. He may not provide a ton of production at the plate, but fans were willing to look past that. However, as fans started warming up to him, the Twins flipped him immediately, along with one of the teams’ better hitters for an aging utility man & a catcher who has struggled mightily over the last few seasons.
The Baffling One
To say the Josh Donaldson era in Minnesota was a disappointment would be fair, even if the circumstances were uncontrollable. Donaldson struggled mightily to stay healthy, racking up just 538 ABs over two seasons (though one of those seasons was the shortened 2020 season), a risk which Minnesota was well aware of when they signed Donaldson to a 4yr/92mil contract before the 2020 season. That being said, Donaldson was still a very effective player. He slashed .247/.352/.475 with 26 HRs in 2021, with a WAR of 3.2. With top 3B prospect Jose Miranda on his way to the majors soon, offloading Donaldson’s massive contract wasn’t a terrible decision. The return, however, was puzzling at best.
To put it frankly, Gary Sanchez has not been good since his 2017 breakout season. Outside of a decent 2019 where he had 34 HRs, Sanchez has had consecutive putrid seasons, batting .187 and striking out in a laughable 34% of his 539 ABs (though he did hit a solid 33 home runs). As a platoon option, Sanchez’s pop can certainly come in handy. However, his inability to consistently make contact will probably prevent him from being an everyday player. Gio Urshela is solid as well, but he’s already 30 & doesn’t play much shortstop, reopening the hole temporarily filled by Kiner-Falefa. Urshela is the better hitter of the two, and helps in replacing Donaldson’s production. His positional ambiguity doesn’t help solve the Twins’ real problem, though.
So… What’s Next?
The Twins have developed something of a glut of infielders who aren’t particularly good shortstops. Jorge Polanco, Urshela or Luis Arraez can all play there in a pinch, but none of them really excel there. It seems that, most likely, Polanco will start at 2nd and Urshela at 3rd. This leaves Arraez as the super utility guy, also slotting in at DH occasionally. Problem with that, however, is the hole still remaining at short. Nick Gordon wasn’t horrible last season, but he didn’t exactly set the world on fire; it also seemed like the team preferred giving him reps in the outfield, anyways. Is there a world where Jose Miranda lights it up and the Twins bite the bullet and stick Urshela or Arraez at short? Sure, there is. But to me, the more likely option involves one of the top shortstops remaining on the market.
More Moves ?!?
As of 3/15/22 at about 1 PM Mountain Time, shortstops Trevor Story & Carlos Correa remain unsigned. As of the same time & date, coincidentally, the Twins’ have no real shortstop on their major league roster. Also coincidentally, the Twins just cleared up about $30mil over the next couple of years. Safe to say it wasn’t much of a surprise when the Twins were linked to Story almost immediately after the Donaldson news broke (per Dan Hayes, The Athletic). For a team that’s been looking for stability at the shortstop position for about 20 years, Story would be a huge pickup. He’d immediately slot in as the most dangerous hitter in a lineup considered one of the leagues’ best before last seasons’ embarrassment. There is nothing out there linking the Twins to Correa, yet, but the match is obviously there, too.
The question with these two players is whether or not the Twins are willing to match their high price points. Story reportedly wants 5/6yrs for $150mil (per Zachary Hablinski of climblingtalshill.com), a high price even for a team with newfound financial flexibility. It seems to me that the Twins’ brass believes that they can bring Story to town; whether or not that’ll happen remains to be seen, but a part of me appreciates the willingness to spend big. However, if they aren’t able to bring in one of these shortstops, then one has to start questioning the decision making.
Even if the Twins end up using the room to acquire one of Oakland pitchers Frankie Montas or Sean Manaea, two players they’ve been linked to in the past few days (per MLB.com’s Jon Morosi), the gap at SS remains. The need for another starter or two certainly remains, and no Twins fan would complain if they filled that need. But when a team starts Spring Training without a real shortstop, one has to hope that they actually have a plan.
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