Hello and welcome to
Twinkie Shortstop Town, where all our articles are apparently about shortstops now. I cracked the door open when Jorge Polanco was first suspended for being ‘roided to the gills. Then TJ opened it wider when he explored the obvious choices in camp that could replace Polanco at short. Myjah proceeded to blow the door off its hinges when she suggested that the infield needed Manny Ramirez, and now I’m here, gently leaning the door against the wall next to the doorway. At least I believe that’s how metaphors work.
Anyway, while Derek Falvey might be on the record as being satisfied with Erick Aybar as the new backup infielder, I am not. Thus, I’m going to keep this carousel moving (ah, that’s the metaphor I wanted!) by taking a look at out-of-options players that might fall into the Twins’ lap before Opening Day.
If you remember, this was exactly how the Twins acquired possible Polanco replacement Ehire Adrianza last year. Adrianza started the 2016-2017 offseason as a member of the San Francisco Giants but was ultimately designated for assignment in January 2017 as he was out of options and the Giants didn’t feel he merited a roster spot. Milwaukee claimed him within a week but appeared to be merely bolstering their minor league depth as they needed just a couple days to hand Adrianza a DFA as well. The Twins chose to claim him and now he will likely be in a timeshare with Eduardo Escobar at shortstop to start the season.
I believe the Twins can improve upon Aybar and it won’t be expensive at all. While you likely remember Aybar as the long-time starting shortstop for the then-Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, he has spent the last two seasons kicking around with the Braves, Tigers, and Padres. Though he’s a career .271/.313/.372 hitter (88 wRC+, below-average but perfectly fine for a shortstop), he’s mustered just a .251/.301/.335 line (73 wRC+) along with poor defense (-13 DRS combined at second, short, and third) since 2015. It should be pretty clear that there isn’t much left in the tank for Aybar, so I feel it would be a good idea to scour the waiver wire in the hopes of finding this year’s Adrianza in case the Twins need more depth on the roster. Thus, here are some players from around the league that are out of options and thus could be available before the season begins.
Charlie Culberson (Atlanta)
Culberson’s claim to fame might be that he started in place of the injured Corey Seager for the Dodgers in the 2017 NLCS. That’s about it. He has played all four infield positions in the majors along with left field, but has just a 48 wRC+ in 443 career plate appearances. I’d call this a hard pass.
Jonathan Villar (Milwaukee)
Villar has had an up-and-down career thus far. He struggled in his first two seasons back in 2013 and 2014 (77 wRC+), broke out in 2016 (119 wRC+, 62 stolen bases), then fell back to earth last season (71 wRC+). UZR/150 despises his defense at shortstop (career -22.5) but he’s only a -1 in defensive runs saved. For what it’s worth, the Brewers had him playing a little center field last season, though that was partially due to the presence of Orlando Arcia at short. Milwaukee tendered Villar a contract this offseason and he might be pencilled in as the starting second baseman, so there’s a chance that Villar is already guaranteed a roster spot, though it should be noted that his name was being floated in trade talks this offseason.
Erik Gonzalez (Cleveland)
Gonzalez has just 132 plate appearances to his name in his major league career (77 wRC+) but has started games at five different positions (2B, SS, 3B, LF, RF). I don’t know if Cleveland will finally commit to giving him a full-time bench role, as he’s hit for average and power in the minor leagues despite terrible plate discipline.
Jurickson Profar (Texas)
A pipe dream here, Profar is the former top prospect that just hasn’t put it together due to both ineffectiveness and injuries. It might be hard to believe that he debuted back in 2012 and yet is still just 25 years old. He’s played the whole infield and left field, but even with a career 72 wRC+, I bet the Rangers will only give him up in a trade rather than as a waiver claim. Plus, I can’t imagine a team acquiring Profar just to have him sit on the bench.
Deven Marrero (Boston)
A career 47 wRC+ and striking out nearly as often as Miguel Sano is a bad sign. He’s mostly played third base in his career but does have the capability of manning shortstop if necessary and has appeared at all four infield positions. I’d put him in the same bucket as Culberson.
Others considered but ignored
Hernan Perez (Milwaukee), Greg Garcia (St. Louis), Wilmer Flores (New York Mets), Dixon Machado (Detroit), Leury Garcia (Chicago White Sox), and Yolmer Sanchez (Chicago White Sox) were all considered as possibilities but realistically I believe they’re guaranteed of making their respective team’s Opening Day roster.
Of the players listed, Profar is easily the one that I would want the Twins to acquire the most. However, I think it’s also unreasonable to expect him to be simply claimed off waivers, so I’d instead move to my second choice. Considering both the ease of acquisition along with the usefulness to the Twins, I feel my choice would be Erik Gonzalez. Although the Indians could use a utility player, they have Francisco Lindor at shortstop, who has missed only seven games in the past two years combined. Second base will be Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis, while third base can be covered by Ramirez, Giovanny Urshela, and Yandy Diaz. Thus, there isn’t much of a need for Gonzalez, hence why I think he’ll probably be cut loose.
However, would he be an improvement over Aybar? His bat will probably be the same as Aybar’s, but his age and versatility would suggest that he could be a better defender than Aybar and thus it might be worth taking a flyer on him. Of course, all of this could be moot if the Twins decide that Escobar and Adrianza are enough to fill in while Polanco (and possibly Sano) are out at the beginning of the season.