Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Twins Crossroads At Second

When looking at the projected 25 man roster leaving Fort Myers for the Minnesota Twins, you would be hard pressed to find a player considered more of a lock than Brian Dozier. Minnesota gave Dozier a four-year, $20 million extension just a year ago, and he remains one of the best second basemen in all of baseball. What Dozier's situation does do is present a crossroads for the players behind him.

Although depth is something the Twins seemingly have throughout the organization, the focus behind Dozier no doubt has to be on Jorge Polanco.

The Twins commitment to Dozier is an interesting one. The extension was signed at a very reasonable $5 million on an average annual basis. The club bought out Dozier's arbitration years, but did not buy into any of his free agency eligibility. Set to become a free agent at age 32 in 2019, the Twins will have another decision to make at that point.

In the first season of his newly signed deal, Dozier rewarded the Twins by turning in his first All-Star performance. Garnering a handful of MVP votes as well, the Mississippi native turned in career high numbers in games played (157), hits (148), doubles (39), homers (28), runs batted in (77), and slugging percentage (.444). Following up his 4.7 fWAR season in 2014, Dozier gave the Twins another productive year compiling a 3.4 fWAR mark.

No matter how you look at it, the Twins are nowhere near a point of moving on from the late-peaking 28 year-old. That then turns the focus to Polanco.

One of the youngest ever to debut in a Twins uniform, Jorge Polanco first showed up in the major leagues during the 2014 season. At 20 years-old, his five games worth of exposure were a testament to just how real Minnesota believes his talent to be. Across the minor leagues, his bat has flashed major league potential, and it's in the season ahead that it should truly take center stage.

Polanco has been playing in the Twins organization since 2010 as a 16 year-old in the Dominican League. Across six minor league seasons, he's put together a career .288/.348/.404 slash line. Not a home run threat, his speed has played up in recent seasons stealing 17 or more bases each of the past two seasons. He's flashed gap power and should be a doubles threat, with the ability to stretch for the extra base. Tough to strike out, Polanco has never fanned more than 90 times in a season, and he taken walks about half as often as he's struck out. Putting it simply, Polanco's bat is ready.

Where things get problematic for the next step with Polanco is on the defensive side. A second basemen for 240 plus games in the Twins system, the only position he's played more has been shortstop (350 games). Minnesota no doubt would like Polanco to play the left side of the diamond for positioning purposes, but it has continued to be a square peg in a round hole type of fit. He has less than ideal arm strength, and has made 63 errors in 221 games over the past two seasons at the position.

Welcome to the conundrum facing the Twins. With his bat, Polanco has proven ready for the next step, but his positional inability has held him back. He'll likely see the bulk of his time in 2016 at Triple-A Rochester, but for an advanced hitter, Minnesota could see him regress or plateau as a lack of challenge is presented.

Looking at what other options Terry Ryan, Paul Molitor, and the Twins brain trust have, it can't be ignored that the trade front may provide the best avenue. What's unfortunate is that many organizations have a guy similar to a Jorge Polanco. He won't be the centerpiece in any deal with a significant return, but is more than a throw in when compiling a package to trade away. Considering the options Minnesota has, planning out the long term scope of Polanco with the projection of belief for Dozier is something that should be considered sooner rather than later.

With Eduardo Nunez still arbitration eligible a year from now, a super utility type fit for Polanco doesn't seem to be in the cards either. As Brian Dozier continues to hold down his role, and Polanco continues to fumble through the shortstop situation, options continue to become less visible. A nice player without a true fit, we're approaching a time to get creative.

No doubt a young team like the Twins is in a position to appreciate talent. Their is a line that has to be toed somewhere between hoarding it, and using it to your benefit however.

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