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Twinkie Town Staff Roundtable: Super Utility Edition

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The staff weigh in on how the Twins should fill the super-utility role in 2021

Minnesota Twins v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

After lamenting the slow pace of the baseball off-season in our staff round table last week, this week brought a flurry of activity and news with the non-tender deadline and a few free agent signings. Still, the biggest fish remain on the market and clubs across the game have roster gaps to fill.

As for the Twins, heading into this offseason we could anticipate the club needing to do something with the utility player role held down by Marwin Gonzalez (and Ehire Adrianza to a lesser extent) the last two seasons. Given the front office’s commitment to maintaining roster depth and positional flexibility it seems likely the club will try to have a player (or two) in this role that can play several positions defensively and have a bat strong enough to adequately start at a regular position for a period of weeks or months in the event of injuries. If the past two seasons are any indication, the player in this role is one the Twins will rely on heavily. Gonzalez played in 114 of 162 games in 2019 and 53 of 60 games in 2020, logging 662 plate appearances across the two seasons. By both games played and PAs, Gonzalez ranked fifth-most on the club.

With Gonzalez and Adrianza now free agents, the Twins have some options to pick from internally and on the free agent market to fill these spots. Internally, the options are unproven prospects, like Nick Gordon, Travis Blankenhorn, and perhaps even Royce Lewis. Turning to the free agent market there are options that fit the Gonzalez mold, like Enrique Hernandez or Jurickson Profar. Free agency might instead allow for significant creativity, such as the outside the box idea move to sign a free agent shortstop and push Jorge Polanco into the utility role. In any event, the Twins likely don’t view this role in the traditional no bat, all glove utility infielder mold of baseball past and the possibilities for filling it are varied and interesting. With that in mind, we asked the staff:

Which player(s) do you think the Twins should target to replace Marwin Gonzalez, and why?”

TJ Gorsegner

This is the toughest puzzle out there for armchair Twins’ GMs this winter. I certainly think Marwin will be moving on, unless he takes a yuuuuge paycut from his last deal. He is the classic “Jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none.” That skill set seems to be prized by the Falvine front office. There are a few names on the free agent market that fill that niche. Personally, I think the Twins should look at a reunion with Ehire Adrianza, and keep Nick Gordon close in case any middle infielders miss extended time. Rather than going for the Swiss-Army-Knife of a Gonzalez type player, they would be better served by picking up a corner-infielder. Given Donaldson and Sano’s fragility concerns, a player who can adequately back up both of them, and serve as a powerful bench bat would be the best use of resources this winter. Especially if you do have a couple solid middle-infield-utility types around. Eric Sogard, or even a reunion with Mike Olt could work here. One reunion I’d like to see is Eduardo Nunez. He’s gotten a little older, and found a helmet that fits. He also has played all over in the past few years, although he missed basically all of 2020. I don’t think the Twins will go there, but I like the idea. Another direction I like is one of the non-tendered players like Travis Shaw or Maikel Franco. Most likely, whatever route the Twins go, it’s a cheap one. Even as one of the more competitive teams this winter, they’ll still try to cut costs, and Gonzalez’ replacement is the most likely place some money can be saved.

Kyle Edelbrock

Want to sign a Marwin replacement who is more versatile, far cheaper, and willing to sign a team-friendly deal?

We already have him, it’s Jorge Polanco.

While he had vastly improved defensive metrics this year, it was a small sample size and we’ve seen him have improved defensive metrics early only to have them tank as the year went on. Coming off a second straight ankle surgery, it might be worthwhile to have him work as a super utility guy at the three infield spots and the occasional DH game if we don’t resign Nelson Cruz.

So how do you replace Polanco as your everyday shortstop? You take advantage of a weak market and get one of the three all-star shortstops available this year: Andrelton Simmons, Marcus Semien, or Didi Gregorius (in that order).

Simmons would give the Twins elite defense on the left side of the infield paired with Donaldson while Semien would be a good glove with right handed power that the Twins need. Gregorius is the worst option as a left handed bat but still a great add.

Does this delay Royce Lewis being an every day SS? Depending on the term of the contract maybe by a year or two. But Lewis can play OF, 3B, and 2B or be a super utility guy himself until his bat acclimates to the big leagues.

Matt Monitto

This really depends on what role of González’ an external signing is being brought in to replace. Are you looking for a do-it-all player? Kiké Hernández is probably the best option in regards to the number of positions played, production, and age, though he’d likely be a costlier one. Just looking for a fourth infielder? Brock Holt can probably hold down the fort while a young prospect like Royce Lewis or (fingers crossed) Nick Gordon reaches pro-readiness. Want a backup corner outfielder? Re-sign Robbie Grossman just to kick the memes back into gear.

DJL44

Give Nick Gordon and Travis Blankenhorn a shot at it. If they succeed, the Twins were able to develop prospects. If they fail, they can pretty easily obtain someone on the waiver wire or in a minor trade later.

James Fillmore

As usual, no great suggestions. But a fun memory of a “utility player.”

One time, I’m at a game in Target Field, and Ryan Doumit is playing left field. Yes, that guy, the catcher guy. I don’t remember why. Injury issues afflicting the team, or maybe Gardy used a Ouija board to make out the lineup.

Anyhoo, I’m sitting in left field. And, in the first inning, there’s a screaming line drive hit to left. Doumit reacts wrongly, corrects, makes the catch. Barely. He tosses the ball back in, then turns around to the stands and spreads his arms. As in, “I’m doing my best out here, can I get some love?”

You’d best believe we cheered and applauded.

Zach Koenig

I think I’d be okay with the in-house “super utility” options. I’m not too worried about the outfield—even losing Rosario, the Twins have Kiriloff, Rooker, and Larnach. To cover infield utility duties, Travis Blankenhorn seems like a good fit, perhaps supplemented by Nick Gordon.

The move I really want to see, though? Somehow, someway, pry Eduardo Escobar away from the Diamondbacks (he’s in the last year of his contract). Three reasons: the Twins need an Ed, he’s still a solid hitter, and he’s quite literally the perfect super-utility player. Plus, I miss him on this team.

Ben Beecken

Kiké Hernandez is the best all-around utility option on the market. His defensive prowess is greater than that of Jurickson Profar, Marwin Gonzalez, and really anyone else that could fit this bill. Yes, Marwin could play several positions, but should he play several positions? Hernandez is legitimately good at every position that he plays, and he’s a good enough hitter — especially against lefties, against whom he’s posted a .820 OPS for his career — to plug into the lineup five times a week. Even if the cost is something like two years and $15-16 million, I think I’d pull the trigger.

Jon Gamble

This free agent market, in particular, has ample options for replacing Marwin Gonzalez. I suspect the most popular pick will be Enrique Hernandez (formerly of the Dodgers), who has lots of experience at 2nd and 3rd base, along with some work in the corner outfield positions and at shortstop. However, I’d also advocate for Jurickson Profar, a former top prospect with a slightly better bat. He’s still a versatile defender (though he hasn’t played any shortstop in recent years), and could come for a slightly cheaper price than Hernandez.

John Foley

I think Minnesota will move on from Gonzalez, who was starting to show signs of decline offensively. Given the fragility of the current Twins’ infielders, I think it’s important that the club have a utility player on hand that is capable of playing every day. The odds are almost certain they will find themselves holding down a starting job for a few weeks at some point in 2021. To that end, former top prospect Jurickson Profar may be the closest analog to Marwin Gonzalez available on the market this winter. A switch hitter, he fits what I’m looking for with high-contact rates (13.9% K%, 2020) and the ability to hold his own against left-handers (wRC+ above 107 vs. LHP in each of last 3 seasons), while not having a major platoon split against pitchers of either handedness. For me, the platoon split gives Profar the edge over a comparable player like Enrique Hernandez who has a 28 point wRC+ difference in his career performance against lefties and righties. Profar has most recently played primarily second base and left field, but has also played significant innings at third base, first base, and shortstop in the past. He doesn’t grade out as an outstanding defender at any spot, but he’s probably passable at all of them. Let’s also remember that he has some connection to Thad Levine from their time in Texas together.

From a play the market opportunities perspective, I think it’s worth looking at the free agent shortstop market, which is somewhat saturated by bigger names. It might be a buyer’s market at shortstop this winter and the Twins could potentially get a bargain on a regular. Just a one-year deal would not interfere with Royce Lewis’ timeline too badly. Of the options, Andrelton Simmons seems the most likely to be in the 1-year deal category and I wouldn’t hesitate to bring him on if the cost was right. Polanco could bump into the Marwin role and the Twins could rely on Gordon and/or Blankenhorn to fill in the gaps like Adrianza did.

Community Discussion

With that, now it’s your turn Twinkie Town. Let us know in the comments, Which player(s) do you think the Twins should target to replace Marwin Gonzalez, and why?”