So what if they don’t hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs a season? Who cares if they aren’t in the lineup every single day? The fact of the matter is, utility players are still extremely valuable in the game of baseball today. The Minnesota Twins have two pending free agents in their early 30s who fit this role. Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza should each be given a long, quality look by Twins’ general manager Thad Levine and ultimately re-signed despite lackluster 2020 campaigns. Hey, shouldn’t everyone get a mulligan for this year?
Gonzalez was brought on board just prior to the 2019 season and was solid, if not spectacular, in his first year in the Twin Cities, batting .264 with 19 doubles and 15 home runs in 114 games. He was an unsung hero many times on the way to Minnesota’s 101-win campaign that saw them run away with the division title.
However, 2020, like for much of the rest of the world, was a down year for Gonzalez. He saw more frequent playing time this season as compared to last, if you make the comparison between 60 and 162 games. Gonzalez appeared in 53 of Minnesota’s 60 contests this year as opposed to 114 of 160 a year ago. He was never able to completely get going in this pandemic-truncated campaign that almost never started, slashing just .211/.286/.320 with four doubles, five homers and 22 RBI.
An important factor to look at is that Gonzalez’s bat is far from his only asset. He can play all over the field, seeing time at every position except center field, catcher and pitcher so far in a Twins uniform - and that’s in just 167 games. When Miguel Sano, Luis Arraez or Max Kepler need a breather from the starting lineup, Gonzalez is there to fill in at their position. He subbed in for an injured Josh Donaldson numerous times throughout the regular season and playoffs at the hot corner.
And Gonzalez is pretty darned good at defense, no matter where you put him. Let’s put it this way: since joining the Twins, he has 536 total “chances”, meaning either a fielding or throwing opportunity defensively. Gonzalez has committed just six errors, which translates to a .989 fielding percentage.
Someone who can adjust on the fly to playing any position with the same confidence and smoothness as he had at the same spot he played the night before? Levine and skipper Rocco Baldelli should be saying, “Give us more Marwin in a heartbeat.”
Gonzalez also has an impressive postseason pedigree, appearing in the playoffs five of the last six years, counting the 2020 two-game Wild Card Round sweep at the hands of his former team, the Houston Astros. His offensive numbers might not look super flashy (.230 in 35 games), but he came up with one of the biggest hits in Astros history, tainted or not, in the 2017 Fall Classic. With Houston in danger of dropping the first two games at Dodger Stadium, Gonzalez led off the ninth inning with a game-tying home run against Kenley Jansen in a contest the Astros ultimately prevailed in 11 innings.
And yes, you know it, Gonzalez’s glove has been there in his entire playoff career, with one measly error in 92 chances. He, like much of the Twins offense, was a non-factor in their latest first-round exit, but this is a guy you want to have. The 18-game playoff losing streak is bound to end soon, so a veteran presence like Gonzalez could be very key in transforming the October narrative in the Twin Cities.
Ehire Adrianza has played a lot of baseball in his professional career, having just wrapped up his 15th season. He was a member of the Giants organization for over a decade before being designated for assignment and claimed off waivers by the Brewers in the 2016-17 offseason. That did not last long at all, because Milwaukee designated Adrianza two days later and he was claimed by Minnesota, where he has been ever since.
Adrianza, perhaps even more so than Gonzalez, is a player who has flown under-the-radar to Twins fans in terms of his on-field production. While he has hit a respectable .252 in four seasons since joining the club, his versatility is something that has been vital. Adrianza has routinely shifted around all spots of the infield while also seeing a tiny bit of time in the outfield on the odd occasion. And, if there was any question about whether he is a team guy or not, in each of the last two years, Adrianza took the mound for an inning to help save the bullpen.
A fun Adrianza story that very few people in the baseball world likely know, is, in fact, something that can only happen in baseball.
Back in 2008, a young 18-year-old infielder by the name of Ehire Adrianza was getting his first foray into stateside baseball as a member of the Arizona League Giants, after having spent the first two years of his professional career in the Dominican Summer League. The AZL played a majority of its games in the mid-morning to avoid the brutal desert summer heat, including a contest on July 2 in which Adrianza started at shortstop for the AZL Giants and was 0-for-4.
But then, a crazy set of circumstances saw Adrianza play in a Triple-A game THAT NIGHT. The then Giants-affiliated Fresno Grizzlies were playing in Tucson and were short-handed, so they called on Adrianza to make the very short drive and join the Grizzlies for two days.
How did he do that night? Not too shabby, he only went 3-for-4 with a double against the Sidewinders. After playing another game in Tucson for Fresno the next evening, Adrianza was sent back down to the AZL and did not see Triple-A again until 2013. However, from 18 years old to now, Adrianza is willing to step up in any role, no matter how unexpected, to help any team he is a member of. He should be another player that Levine considers bringing back.
If Marwin Gonzalez or Ehire Adrianza (or both) are re-signed by the Minnesota Twins, neither will be moves that cause a stir in the free agent world, and the Twins should be just fine with that. They know both players will do whatever it takes to contribute to this team by doing whatever is asked of them, and performing the tasks admirably.