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  • Looking Ahead to Find a Shortstop

    Although offense has hardly been a problem for the Twins here in the early going, finding a viable solution at shortstop remains a top-ranking priority for the long-term success of the club.

    It's one of the most important positions on the field and it's been a frustrating problem area for this franchise for many years. Rarely has the deficiency at short been more noticeable than it is now, with Pedro Florimon batting .115 and sporting a horrendous .366 OPS.

    At a position where the offensive expectations are relatively low, Florimon has been beyond inadequate. The lowest qualifying OPS for a shortstop is Zach Cozart's .473 in Cincinnati; that still beats Florimon's present mark by more than 100 points.

    No amount of defensive aptitude makes up for that kind of anemic production at the plate. The Twins need to upgrade. And what's most worrisome is that they don't really have any appealing replacement candidates lined up, now or in the remotely near future.

    Eduardo Nunez doesn't field well enough to be a regular MLB shortstop, especially on a contact-heavy staff that induces lots of ground balls. After a strong offensive showing in spring camp, the defensively erratic Danny Santana is hitting .268 with a sub-.700 OPS in Triple-A. Jorge Polanco, whose bat looks far more promising, is currently at Single-A and he has committed 11 errors in 21 games at short, suggesting that his glove is a long way from big-league ready (I still think he ends up at second).

    So if the Twins are truly interested in addressing their shortstop problem with authority, they need to look outside the organization. To that end, Stephen Drew has been a popular name. He's still sitting out there in free agency as clubs have scoffed at the idea of meeting his asking price while also giving up a high draft pick.

    Here's the problem with trying to sign Drew: either you try to make it happen now, which would require forfeiting a second-round pick in this June's draft, or you make a play for him after the draft, which would remove the pick compensation from the equation but would force you to compete with many other teams who will also be bidding more aggressively.

    And here's the bigger problem: it's not clear that Drew is all that good.

    Last year he was a solid offensive contributor, hitting .253/.333/.443 with 13 homers. Quality production from a shortstop, and perhaps quite enticing if you believe he'll match it year in and year out.

    But in the two seasons prior, Drew hit just .238/.313/.373 with 12 home runs total. He strikes out a ton. And he's already on the wrong side of 30. While he's almost certain to be an upgrade over Florimon, Drew doesn't strike me as being worthy of a sizable investment.

    So if you want to take the free agency approach, the alternative is to wait it out until the offseason. Try to find some workable stopgap for the rest of this year -- whether that's Santana, Nunez, Eduardo Escobar, or someone else -- and then put some of those hefty cash reserves to use.

    Who will be available? Let's take an early glance:

    Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE

    Cabrera hasn't been able to back up his breakout campaign in 2011, when he was an All-Star and Silver Slugger with 25 homers and 92 RBI. His numbers have sagged in each of the last two seasons and this year he has really struggled to get going. He also isn't considered a particularly great defender.

    However, he's still only 28, and even with his numbers dropping off in the past two campaigns he has still managed to total 30 homers with a .732 OPS that is perfectly solid for a shortstop. He's also almost certain to be available, since Cleveland will be transitioning to top prospect Francisco Lindor soon.

    In fact, if Lindor (currently in Double-A) forces the issue it's possible that the Twins could pull off a midseason trade for Cabrera and then work out an extension.

    Hanley Ramirez, LAD

    Here's an interesting name. Ramirez was one of the best hitters in the league last year and garnered MVP votes despite playing only 86 games. He's raking again here in April, with an .857 OPS and a league-leading 11 doubles.

    There were some reports earlier this spring that the Dodgers and Ramirez were talking extension but it's been all quiet since. If the 30-year-old does hit the market, he's sure to be very expensive but he has the potential to be an offensive centerpiece and one of the most dramatic upgrades imaginable.

    J.J. Hardy, BAL

    The Twins misguidedly dumped Hardy after the 2010 season because they wanted to change directions and go with Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who they felt better fit their shortstop mold. Hardy has since won two Gold Gloves and bashed 77 homers in three seasons with the Orioles.

    It was, without question, one of the most blatantly and inexcusably horrendous personnel decisions this organization has ever made, but there's no use dwelling on it. The question at this point is whether it would be worth exploring the idea of bringing Hardy back.

    The answer is probably not. He'll be 32 after this season and although his purported lack of traditional athleticism hasn't stopped him from being a high-end shortstop over the past three years, it might be a sign that he won't age particularly well.

    Plus, would Hardy really want to return to a team that clearly never valued him as they should have?

    Jed Lowrie, OAK

    Lowrie is currently making $5.25 million in his final year of arbitration, and is set to hit free agency for the first time in the offseason. He's been a very good hitter in each of the last two years and has looked phenomenal in the early weeks this season, with a .286/.423/.429 slash line that is driven in part by a 13/20 K/BB ratio.

    He's a switch-hitter with a consistently successful track record, and he's only 30. He's also highly unlikely to re-up in Oakland, with top prospect Addison Russell on the way and the A's typically averse to big-money deals.

    There are a few older and less interesting names slated to be available, such as Jimmy Rollins, Rafael Furcal and Mike Aviles, but those mentioned above are the ones worth focusing on. Assuming that those guys don't sign extensions, they'll comprise one of the more intriguing free agent shortstop crops in recent memory.

    With the Twins grasping for answers at the position, and likely to be working with an enormous cash surplus, the timing could hardly be better.
    Comments 140 Comments
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brandon View Post
      I wonder who the biggest offensive surpise is this year? Suzuki, Colabello, Kubel, or Pinto, or even Dozier.
      It would have to be Pinto because he's the most likely to continue hitting at an above-average level if you exclude Dozier.

      And I'm excluding Dozier because I expected him to have acceptable offensive production. To me, the only surprise is that he has continued to hit for this much power.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brandon View Post
      Next offseason we should go after Drew, Lawrie and then Cabrera in that order. I am open to trades or other ideas as well. At this point, I would prefer to see Bernier up and platooning with Escobar.
      I really like the platoon idea. Escobar has a career .704 OPS against lefties. I am guessing we have someone in our system or we can sign one cheap that has a reasonable OPS against righties.

      Obviously, you want to actually solve the problem by getting someone good. But I have my doubts. This would be a good plan B but I am sure this is too innovative for the Twins. Gardy probably has some unwritten rule/random thought on my it is a better idea to have one single guy with a .400 OPS.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by spycake View Post
      I still think Dozier deserves another crack at it. His defensive numbers weren't that bad at SS in 2012, and he looks a lot more comfortable in the bigs now. Probably not worth it until we get an interesting option to play 2B in his place -- maybe Rosario? Would have liked adding one of those Cubans.
      They could move Dozier to SS but the most appealing 2B to hit free agency next offseason will be (drum roll)... Emilio Bonifacio.

      So yeah... anymore Cubans coming down the pipeline?
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Trevor0333 View Post
      Didi Gregorious is known to be available, although Im sure the asking price is quite high. Their bullpen has been a complete & utter disaster,while I don't think the FO could pull off a Reverse Bill Smith trade. However if you offered up Burton &or Duensing with Ryan Pressly to cure their bullpen woes as the gravy in a package with Jorge Polanco & Stephen Gonsalves. Maybe they bite.
      Um, no. That won't happen, but I like the Duensing addition.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      "Santana is the logical choice. But do we really want to trust the position to a rookie now that we're close to contending? " Are we that close? Happy if we are but a game over .500 over an eight of a season isn't really that convincing. For shortstop I had suggested a trade with Sano back when he was a top 5 prospect and there were 2 or 3 shortstops in the top 6. I would have been happier with a great major league ready upside elite shortstop and take my chances with Plouffe or other at 3rd than Sano at 3rd and Florimon at short. That is out the window and unfortunately Rosario would be selling low at this point and I think Buxton would require more than a top 6 shortstop in trade. Stewart for a closer to ready good upside shortstop prospect?
    1. kdrupp09's Avatar
      kdrupp09 -
      I think it is premature to discuss potentially trading any of our top prospects, especially Sano, Buxton, or Stewart. To discuss trading any of these, you would have to get huge packages back from the other team plus be willing to risk the ire of the fan base who have been told for the last 2+ years that these names are the future. Quite simply, you do not trade your future for the potential to contend this year.
    1. Trevor0333's Avatar
      Trevor0333 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Um, no. That won't happen, but I like the Duensing addition.
      What, Polanco, Gonsalves, & Pressly not enough?
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Quote Originally Posted by kdrupp09 View Post
      I think it is premature to discuss potentially trading any of our top prospects, especially Sano, Buxton, or Stewart. To discuss trading any of these, you would have to get huge packages back from the other team plus be willing to risk the ire of the fan base who have been told for the last 2+ years that these names are the future. Quite simply, you do not trade your future for the potential to contend this year.
      Who said trade for a guy that only helps for this year? I don't think anyone is proposing that.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Need a placeholder? Why not try Escobar full-time and bring up Doug Bernier to be the utility guy? Bernier won't be great but he's seeing the ball well right now.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      I honestly don't see much of any of this being feasible or particularly attractive as solutions. In my eyes, moving Dozier remains the best bet for this team.
    1. terencemann's Avatar
      terencemann -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      I honestly don't see much of any of this being feasible or particularly attractive as solutions. In my eyes, moving Dozier remains the best bet for this team.
      I don't know what Dozier would bring back unless he continues to do what he's doing for a couple months but I think trying to sell high on some players is the best bet if the Twins really do want to build a team around guys like Sano/Buxton/Meyer. They still have a lot of holes to fill and it wont' all come from the minors and I don't think they have the resources to plug every hole from free agency. I'd like to see the Twins continue to stuff their minor leagues with as much pitching as possible.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Sorry meant move to SS.
    1. terencemann's Avatar
      terencemann -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      Sorry meant move to SS.
      Ooops. My bad. In any case, my argument is still that I want to see them continue to drag pitching into the system.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      Drew is "on the wrong side of 30" now, but Lowrie, who will be almost the exact same age next off-season as Drew is now, will be a viable FA target?
      My point was this: Here's a guy whose K-rate has been consistently on the rise, all the way up to 25 percent last year. And I don't really expect that to turn around as he ages into his mid-30s.

      His age, on its own, isn't all that noteworthy. Most free agents are 30+.
    1. kdrupp09's Avatar
      kdrupp09 -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Who said trade for a guy that only helps for this year? I don't think anyone is proposing that.
      I wasn't meaning to imply that it would only be for a guy for this year, however to even consider trading any one of arguably the top 3 or 4 top prospects to grace the Twins system in the past decade is premature. Also, to even consider it you are going to have to look for a SS prospect of equal value. Are there any in the minors, Correa maybe?
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I don't think anyone said trade Sano or Buxton. Now, if you sign shields, and you have Meyer and May and Berrios.....would you not trade Stewart for a proven SS and another player? What about Boggaerts and another player? I don't know. A bird in the hand.....I'd think about it, but ONLY if I was willing to buy a top SP in FA.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      My point was this: Here's a guy whose K-rate has been consistently on the rise, all the way up to 25 percent last year. And I don't really expect that to turn around as he ages into his mid-30s.His age, on its own, isn't all that noteworthy. Most free agents are 30+.
      fair enough, I misunderstood.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      I honestly don't see much of any of this being feasible or particularly attractive as solutions. In my eyes, moving Dozier remains the best bet for this team.
      I think a move back to short becomes a real option if he continues to hit. We can deal with subpar fielding if the guy is OPSing at .800 or even .750.

      Not that Dozier is necessarily a subpar shortstop but it'll probably take some time to get him back up to speed at the position.

      With that said, I don't want to see Dozier moved this year. He deserves the chance to get his feet under him and cement himself as a productive hitter before the team messes with his head at all.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Chief's opinion: In the minds of Twins management (both front office and dugout) Dozier is not a SS, and won't be moved back under except possibly to finish out a game in extreme circumstances.
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      Chief's opinion: In the minds of Twins management (both front office and dugout) Dozier is not a SS, and won't be moved back under except possibly to finish out a game in extreme circumstances.
      This would be a reason to change management.

      If Dozier can play SS, the Twins can't afford to close their minds to the possibility. Shortstops are much more costly to acquire than second basemen.

      I would play Escobar through the all star break. If he isn't close to OK with the bat, give Dozier a shot following the break.
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