Three days after the Twins sold Sam Fuld back to the Athletics for far more than the nothing they spent to acquire him, Minnesota selected Jordan Schafer off of waivers from the Braves. The Twins were short on outfielders already, which could be seen by starting outfields that included bricks with legs (Josh Willingham, Oswaldo Arcia, and Chris Parmelee) and a center fielder who was an infielder, so finding a warm body that could A) legitimately be called an outfielder, and B) actually run and look natural doing it was pretty high on the priority list.
Schafer fit the bill.
With his status as a Top-50 prospect long in the rearview mirror, Schafer had returned to the Braves when the Astros started clearing roster space in November of 2012. But his return to Atlanta wasn't much better than his first time, and after hitting .163/.256/.213 in 63 games in 2014 they'd had enough. They needed a roster spot, and Schafer wasn't earning his.
The Twins had somehow coaxed Sam Fuld into hitting .274 with a .370 on-base percentage - an otherworldly and highly improbable performance for him - and so it came as a mild surprise when Schafer exhibited a lot of the same assets and results. Where Fuld was 12-for-15 in stolen base attempts, Schafer was 15-for-20. He played a more than adequate outfield (34 games in left, nine in center, one in right), and just as improbably hit .285 with a .345 on-base percentage.
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Not bad for a guy whose career triple slash coming out of 2013 was .227/.311/.311.
Center field: Aaron Hicks, Danny Santana, Byron Buxton, Wilkin Ramirez
Corner outfield: Oswaldo Arcia, Chris Parmelee, Eddie Rosario
While Schafer is a capable center fielder defensively, there is almost no competition for him in left field. Parmelee isn't a lock to even be on the 40-man roster, and Rosario needs to prove he can still hit Double-A pitching much less Major League pitching. His success in the Arizona Fall League doesn't raise his stock that much. Looking at this group of talent, Schafer isn't likely to lose a roster spot.
Schafer is eligible for arbitration for the second time. He made $1,090,000 in 2014 as a first-timer, and MLB Trade Rumors projects he'll get $1,500,000 for his second year. That's not a prohibitive number, since it's a mere one million more than the Major League minimum, and even as a backup it's a reasonable number.
What's his role on the 2015 team?
Unless the Twins have a strong off-season blueprint that doesn't include Schafer in any way, shape, or form, it's unlikely he's non-tendered. He plays at a position of need with internal options not yet ready to step forward and external options who are all likely to be more expensive.
Minnesota could do a number of interesting things in the outfield this winter. If they add a shortstop, we could see Danny Santana in center and Aaron Hicks in left (or vice versa). If the Twins add an outfielder in free agency (and we're all thinking about Colby Rasmus), we could see a combination of that outfielder and Hicks in left and center, with Santana at his natural position of shortstop.
Most of these scenarios involve Schafer as the fourth outfielder, which is ideal. It's important not to get too caught up in the .285 batting average or the .345 on-base percentage, because they're career highs by a wide margin. Schafer, who just turned 28 in September, isn't old but that doesn't mean he has a profile as "a potential starter if we just believe in his upside." Schafer's upside is as a versatile outfielder with plus speed who, once or twice in his career, could exceed his offensive expectations in a sample size that isn't large enough to consistently expose his flaws as a batter.
If he doesn't make the team out of spring training, or if he is non-tendered, it won't be because of money - it will be because the Twins have their own ideas about personnel. But as a fourth outfielder, Schafer's ability to play a corner outfield spot late in the game or to take over at first as a pinch runner is perfect. Every baseball team needs role players, even the best teams in baseball, and he ticks that box. It's for that reason I'll be surprised if he's not on the 25-man roster when the team breaks camp at the end of March.