What the Pursuit of a Shortstop Might Tell us About the 2022 Twins
....it might be a lot!
I’m fully aware that the needs list for the Minnesota Twins this offseason begins and ends with pitching. And the filling of that offseason sandwich is also pitching.
But I’ve never really understood why people get so upset when a team doesn’t address their most important need with their first moves of the offseason. While I understand the concept of filling needs first, it doesn’t really apply.
Especially when considering the Jeff Passan report Friday that the shortstop market — or at least part of the very top of it — might move quickly this offseason with guys trying to find homes before the end of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement in early December.
The names dropped specifically by Passan are Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, but who knows what kind of domino effect this could create.
The number of shortstop-needy teams exceeds the number of truly elite shortstops available, so even if only Semien and Seager are truly focused on signing sooner rather than later, the ripple effect might take hold rather quickly — especially once the market is established for two of the top guys.
Pretty much everyone should fall relatively in line after that.
The Twins are one of those shortstop-needy teams, one would almost certainly argue, and it’s my contention that whichever shortstop they target and ultimately land will dictate what direction they’re expecting to take the rest of the offseason — a pivotal one for a team caught in the ether of chasing a truly great team in the division while fighting off some up-and-coming squads while also needing to cleanse themselves of the stink that was a disastrous 2021.
It won’t be easy.
Here’s what I think the Twins’ pursuit of a shortstop will tell us:
The big guys (Carlos Correa/Corey Seager)
If we’re being honest, don’t count on it. But this would be the Twins throwing caution to the wind and saying “we’re going to get better in the most obvious way we can offensively” while bucking basically the organization’s historical trend of spending HUGE for a free agent. Josh Donaldson was a big contract, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s small potatoes when considering what Francisco Lindor got from the Mets and what either of these guys will get.
It won’t happen.
But if for some reason it did, it would be the Twins embracing “improve wherever you can at whatever cost” and while it would be unconventional, it would require the Twins to be creative to fill out a starting rotation that has more question marks than a Matthew Lesko suit.
A year ago Story would have been in the top group and maybe even headlined it, but after a bit of a down season, his free agency could be slightly more frigid than before. He should still command a deal in excess of five years and $100 million in my estimation unless he wants a bridge deal that’ll go maybe two years and through his age-30 season.
It’s unlikely a free-agent market will be this strong at shortstop again anytime soon, so perhaps if he can bounce back to his typical 120ish OPS+ with solid defense and good speed, he could command a much larger deal on a more barren marketplace.
This would be an ideal situation for the Twins to pounce if the price is in the first range, as a player his caliber should likely cost far more than that. He’s only entering his age-29 season, and we’ve seen in recent seasons that the Coors effect isn’t as pronounced for players leaving (like DJ LeMahieu) as we previously thought.
If the Twins were to sign a deal like that, it might signal further skepticism that they’ll be able to keep Byron Buxton, however, as it feels like the contingency plan in center field is one of Austin Martin and/or Royce Lewis.
Spending big on a shortstop would not only eat into the potential funds earmarked for Buxton, but signal a likely thought that neither are the future at that position — despite their blue-chip status.
This would be the perfect fit, as Semien is coming off a brilliant season with the Blue Jays while playing second base. He’s always been an excellent defensive shortstop, and there’s little reason to believe he can’t at least be solid there if not very good again — even entering his age-31 season.
A player of Semien’s age is more likely to get a three- or four-year deal — maybe someone dips into the territory of five, but that doesn’t feel as likely to me — and his willingness to move off shortstop would be a plus in the future assuming one of the aforementioned prospects proves they’re ready to handle the spot, or failing that, Semien’s defense necessitates such move.
A lack of a long track record of being this good offensively might tamp down his cost a little bit, but he’s coming off hitting 85 home runs in his last 277 games — an average of 37 per 162 games — and he never misses games.
This is the guy to watch. The Twins might not be able to meet his asking price, but it feels like if they should covet any position player, it should be either Semien or Story.
The guess on Baez’s market is as difficult as any, as he should command long-term deals worth big money but his 2020 might leave teams wondering a little bit about how his skill set will age.
He’s a brilliant defender. He has lots of power. He never walks. He strikes out a lot. How will those first two tools age when the last two aren’t very good to begin with? It’s anyone’s guess.
Based on his age, there’s no reason for him to get any less than what a guy like Story might — at least in terms of years. In terms of money, he’s not as well-rounded as Story but he’s about as much of a superstar as any player can be without solid plate discipline.
Getting Baez would signal a desire to just go get a good player on the market. The number of years would dictate if the Twins perhaps feel he’s the future at short or if someone else is. This doesn’t feel super likely, but weirder things have happened.
Taylor would be the absolute ideal fit, as his positional versatility would give the Twins added protection in the outfield (Buxton) and at third base (Donaldson) while also filling a need in the present at short.
Can he play short on a full-time basis? Not sure. He never really got the chance with Seager in the mix, at least not since 2018 when he filled in after Seager got hurt before the team acquired Manny Machado for the stretch run.
Adding Taylor would signal a willingness to dabble with putting Jorge Polanco back at short on a contingency basis, because if Taylor is expected to fill in elsewhere, it would leave the Twins lean at the spot otherwise.
Taylor is the fit the Twins need, and while his market will be robust, it shouldn’t be a budget-buster like some of the guys above him on this list. It feels like he could wind up getting something like four years and $60 million — and there are quite a few teams likely lining up to give him that. It’ll be competitive.
They’re very different players, but Villar could fill a similar role to Taylor for quite a bit less money. Villar has good speed, pretty good pop and has played all over the infield in recent seasons — and even dabbled a bit in the outfield.
Why he hasn’t suck anywhere for very long isn’t really certain from my point of view, but it seems as though he’ll want at least some security after putting together a respectable offensive season (102 OPS+) for the Mets with 18 home runs and 14 steals. Baseball Reference has him at plus-1.7 WAR this last season and Fangraphs has him at 2.1 — and either figure would look good for a guy who has never been great defensively but shouldn’t embarrass himself.
Going with Villar on say, a two-year deal worth something like $16-18 million would leave ample money for pitching while still capitalizing on his potential versatility. This, again, would signal the team being comfortable turning short over to Polanco, Nick Gordon or possibly even Martin should the situation dictate.
The rest (Freddy Galvis/Jose Iglesias/Andrelton Simmons)
If they do this, they’re going to (they better) spend money on pitching. I think it makes more sense to spend money on a shortstop and trade for pitching, but I am not the GM of the Minnesota Twins, as you may have heard.