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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. Brandon's Avatar
      Brandon -
      What we should do
      Sign Drew now
      What we should do with what we have
      Send down Florimon and bring up Bernier let Escobar start
      What we will likely do
      5 players will start at least 5 or more games at SS this year and 4 will start 10 from Florimon, Escobar, Bernier, Santana, and Nunez
      What team ownership wants us to do
      Keep spending money despite the lack effort or assets to improve SS.
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      Do not move Dozier... He's playing 2B as well as anyone right now. Lock him in... Rosario moves to another spot when he is ready.

      SS... I wish I had the answer... I don't.

      I'm against paying an extroaidanary amount of cash to acquire a good hitter by SS standards but an average hitter in comparison to all of baseball. I know we should draft best player available but I'm hoping its a College SS when our draft position comes around.

      Until then... I'm hopeful that Florimon could start hitting .220 at least... and then I'll stop worrying about it.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      I really dislike the idea of bringing up a 30+ career minor leaguer because he's had a hot 50 at-bats in AAA. I, too, would like to see what Escobar could do if he started five games a week for a month. It is interesting that after the long layoff, "regulars" Hicks and Florimon are riding the pine.

      Long term, I'm not fond of any of the Free Agent SS candidates. I would much rather find a young guy who's about ready to a major league regular. I don't know most of the names, but I definitely think the team should add a young shortstop.
    1. Reider's Avatar
      Reider -
      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.
      Because he is not...
    1. Trevor0333's Avatar
      Trevor0333 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Reider View Post
      Because he is not...
      Wasnt it something about Dozier being terrible going to 1 side but not the other, I can't remember which but it was noted in a Strib article by Len3 & that was one of the big reasons for his issues at SS & excelling at 2B.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      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.
      I think you do it when you have an alternative at second. Since I doubt that happens before sometime next year at the soonest, I don't have an issue with that.

      But if Dozier can play shortstop....then you make that move when you have an alternative. I don't care if that's a step back for him defensively, it is plugging a gigantic hole on this team.
    1. AHSaves's Avatar
      AHSaves -
      Didi's line in AAA (only sent down because of Owings)

      .278/.355/.443 - Almost half of his hits are XBH. 2 HR's 1 SB. K/BB isn't great.

      MLB Career .252/.329/.365 - Not perfect defense but even Florimon has some E's.

      At 24 years old I think he would be a great addition.
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      The Twins know the players far better than myself. Perhaps there is something about Dozier, despite playing SS his entire life, being drafted and developed as a SS by the Twins, that has them convinced that even now, past the inexperienced, rookie jitter phase, he simply can't play SS at the major league level. And if that is reality, I'm perfectly fine with that as he is/has turned in to an excellent 2B, and will probably continue to improve. But as Leviathan said, even if there is a slight regression with a move back to SS, I'm OK with that. Not saying move him today, that would be foolish. But next season or so, I'd have to consider it.

      As to what we have now, I'm a little shocked that Santana, a young athlete with some offensive potential who has caught the coaches' eye, is being so quickly and easily dismissed by some so quickly. Can't we at least let him settle in and get some AAA time, at least, before we just dismiss him?

      Polanco, if he be even a solid, consistent SS defensively, with his offense, would be tremendous. Early errors this season so far stink, but the season is still young. There are a lot of factors in development for any young player. Once settled and comfortable, we might see a big drop in errors, and far better fielding the balance of the season.

      In the short term, I'm very glad to see Escobar finally getting a chance. At this point, I think you just have to pull the plug on Florimon as the every day option. Wish it hadn't played out this way, but it's reality. The team is on an upswing in talent and competitiveness. I don't feel a knee-jerk reaction today, or off season, to an aging player is the way to necessarily go. For now, I ride Escobar. Perhaps, by the second half, we have a youngster like Santana to take a shot.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      That many errors is a red flag. More troublesome to me is Polanco's arm. I don't know if he has enough arm to be an everyday shortstop. Polanco looks like he could be a plus offensive player, but I really think his position will be second base.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      I just don't see why you close one hole by opening another. How many second basemen have the Twins had since Knoblauch?
    1. halfchest's Avatar
      halfchest -
      I guess I think you start Rosario at 2B when he comes back, keep Santana and Polanco at SS in the minors this year and keep Dozier at 2B in the majors. Then depending on the scenario you have a few options. You consider moving Dozier back to SS over the offseason if you see Rosario as a legitimate major league ready 2B. You give Dozier the offseason to know about this move, prepare, and go into spring training with this plan. The other possibility is that Santana shows he deserves a shot at SS in the major and you go into this year with the plan of him taking over. The third plan is Polanco developing but understanding he is a year or two away and you will need some sort of backup plan. In this scenario you maybe go after one of the guys mentioned on a two year deal. If all of these things work out positively (Rosario, Santana, and Polanco looking capable) then well you have a nice embarassment of riches in middle infield prospects and you figure out what makes the most sense be it a trade, moving Dozier to SS or moving Rosario to a corner outfield spot to make room. Let's hope this is the problem and not a problem of still having no one for SS next year.
    1. Sconnie's Avatar
      Sconnie -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      Maybe they can trade for this guy recently signed into the Cardinal organization...(scroll to the right side to see the sweet slash line).....signed through 2018 at $2M/yr.........

      Year Age AgeDif Tm Lg Lev Aff G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB
      2007 16 Villa Clara CNS Fgn
      2008 17 Villa Clara CNS Fgn
      2009 18 Villa Clara CNS Fgn
      2010 19 Villa Clara CNS Fgn
      2011 20 Villa Clara CNS Fgn
      2014 23 -1.1 Springfield TL AA STL 20 80 75 8 23 5 1 3 16 4 2 1 19 .307
      .321 .520 .841 39 1 1 2 1 0
      Missed the boat on Aledmys Diaz huh?
    1. Sconnie's Avatar
      Sconnie -
      1) keep Florimon on the bench and Escobar starting at SS for the foreseeable future, maybe rest of the season.
      2) Dozier is the second baseman, don't fix one hole by creating another.
      3) Let Rosario develop at 2B, trade him for the best player available, hopefully a SS prospect.
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      After 4-4 tonight, it is time for Every Day Eddie
    1. Reider's Avatar
      Reider -
      The Twins definitely have to give Escobar more playing time. Here we are panicking over the SS position and we might just have a guy on the team right now who can get the job done at the plate, while still being pretty good defensively.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sconnie View Post
      1) keep Florimon on the bench and Escobar starting at SS for the foreseeable future, maybe rest of the season.
      2) Dozier is the second baseman, don't fix one hole by creating another.
      3) Let Rosario develop at 2B, trade him for the best player available, hopefully a SS prospect.
      Not all holes are created equal. SS is a far more difficult position to fill and one the Twins have absolutely nothing in line to even be an option. With Rosario at least there is a chance.
    1. freshinthehouse's Avatar
      freshinthehouse -
      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.
      Agreed. I think the offensive potential of a Dozier/Rosario middle infield is great enough that you have to at least give it a try.
    1. Sconnie's Avatar
      Sconnie -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      Not all holes are created equal. SS is a far more difficult position to fill and one the Twins have absolutely nothing in line to even be an option. With Rosario at least there is a chance.
      True, but history suggests Dozier hits and fields very we'll as a 2b and doesn't at SS. I know, I know, SSS, but I think that the combination of Dozier-Rosario will be worse, than the combination of Escobar-Dozier in terms of the sum of runs allowed and runs scored. I do think that a package can be made with Rosario that could net the Twins a true long term solution at SS and be able to keep a very strong Dozier at 2b.
    1. Sconnie's Avatar
      Sconnie -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      Not all holes are created equal. SS is a far more difficult position to fill and one the Twins have absolutely nothing in line to even be an option. With Rosario at least there is a chance.
      Have the Twins previous to Dozier been able to fill the relatively easy to replace 2b? Gotta love that Brendan Harris - Nick Punto combination up the middle.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sconnie View Post
      True, but history suggests Dozier hits and fields very we'll as a 2b and doesn't at SS. I know, I know, SSS, but I think that the combination of Dozier-Rosario will be worse, than the combination of Escobar-Dozier in terms of the sum of runs allowed and runs scored.
      I think it's way too early to make such a call. If Rosario comes back and OPSes at .700 in New Britain, then yeah. Dozier/Escobar might be a better solution.

      If Rosario comes back and OPSes at .800 while continuing to polish his defense at second base, then it's likely that Dozier/Rosario is the better option.

      As I said earlier, this is a decision that just doesn't need to be made now or any time soon. Everything hinges on what Rosario does in the second half of 2014.
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