A few days ago, the Twins signed veteran infielder Erick Aybar to a minor league deal. Then they turned around and signed first baseman, left fielder, and most likely, DH Logan Morrison. We could just assume these are depth signings, but I like to read into things. To me, these moves signal the Twins’ confidence in Miguel Sano for 2018, or more likely, their lack thereof.
As you all probably know, not only is Sano coming back from a fairly significant offseason surgery, but he is also facing a serious allegation of sexual misconduct. Between these two factors, Sano’s already murky future has become a major question mark. We already had to wonder what his long-term position was, but now we need to worry about his 2018 as well.
Sano reportedly showed up at camp in decidedly not the-best-shape-of-his-life. It has been suggested that he reported at over 300 pounds, and behind where the team wanted him conditioning wise. I won’t go full-Souhan here, but clearly there is something amiss, whether is body chemistry, attitude, knowledge, or something else. Part of it, obviously, is related to the fact he has been recovering from the surgery to insert a steel rod into his shin, but it has been suggested that the Twins expected him to be in better shape.
The MLB is still investigating the allegations against Sano, and the team is deferring to the league before they make any decisions. While the initial timeline looked to have some clarity before the beginning of spring training, that obviously hasn’t happened. Whatever the league knows, its very likely the team has quietly looked into matters as well, and are probably anticipating a specific outcome. I think these signings are evidence of suspension being likely.
Given what we know about Sano’s commitment and/or follow through on his conditioning, it seems very unlikely that he would report back to the team from suspension in peak condition. More likely, he will require several weeks in the minor leagues to get into baseball shape. When you add in the injury, and the fact that his lack of conditioning has been suggested to correlate to future injury concerns, you would have to think the team will be conservative with his return to game action. Especially if the suspension takes place to start the season, I think you can tack on an additional 15-30 days of an unofficial “rehab” tour in (probably) Chattanooga before we see Sano in the MLB. That would put the team without him for potentially 60 days, with the projected 30-day suspension, and even more if the league drops the hammer with a 60-day suspension.
Meanwhile, the MLB team has a serviceable replacement at the hot corner in Eduardo Escobar. Escobar being an everyday player, however, would leave the bench dangerously thin when it comes to infielders. Ehire Adrianza is clearly your top guy there, but before the Aybar signing, either Gregorio Petit or Nick Gordon would be the second back-up. Petit is a career back-up who has played in 171 games over five seasons. He has actually acquitted himself reasonably well with the bat, considering he is a perfect example of a replacement-level middle infielder, but certainly isn’t a guy that a competing team would want to rely on long-term. Gordon, meanwhile has never played above Double-A and is a high enough prospect that the Twins likely wouldn’t want to rush his development. Adding Aybar gives the Twins a veteran with a better bat than Petit and MLB experience at every position besides center field and catcher. His primary position has been shortstop, but he played 12 games at third for Detroit in 2016.
The defensive side of Sano’s production has therefore been adequately replaced, so lets turn to the offense. This is where adding Morrison comes into play. While Sano’s primary role is third base, he only played there in 82 games last season. He also spent 25 games at DH and nine at first. Morrison will likely be the primary DH, and Joe Mauer’s backup at first this season. If Sano is out, Escobar will be playing in the field significantly more often, and he was also one of Paul Molitor’s favorite guys to pencil into the DH role last season. Sano and Escobar alone leave 45 games of DH production to fill. Morrison also hit 38 home runs last season, which is ten more dongs than Sano stroked.
While I don’t know for sure if Miguel Sano will miss significant time due to suspension, injury, or poor conditioning, I do know it is well within the realm of the possible. I don’t know if the team knows any more than I do, but their recent signings imply that they are preparing for the worst. If Sano plays significant time, Aybar can stay in Rochester, and Morrison can be a solid DH. If not, they keep the Twins competitive in 2018. Congratulations boy wonders, this was a smart play either way.