In the cold, snowy, early months of 2017, Ehire Adrianza changed teams twice. Waived by his original team, the San Francisco Giants, in January, he was picked up by the Milwaukee Brewers, and placed on waivers again. The Twins claimed him in February, and he has made a home with the team since. There are a lot of reasons to draw a comparison between the once-unwanted Adrianza, and new Twin, Diamondbacks cast-off Ildemaro Vargas.
Defensively, both players are primarily middle-infielders, but can play pretty much anywhere but catcher if asked to. Vargas even made an appearance on the mound in the minors. Adrianza came in with a glove-first reputation, as does Vargas.
Prior to joining the Twins, Adrianza had hit .220/.292/.313 in 331 plate appearances with the Giants. With the Diamondbacks, Vargas had hit .257/.287/.387 in 265 plate appearances. Both were primarily singles hitters, as may be obvious from their slugging percentages.
Both players had appearances in parts of four MLB seasons with their NL-West club, and both were available to the Twins for basically nothing. In the case of Adrianza, he was a waiver claim, as discussed above. For Vargas, he was DFA’d last week, and the Twins acquired him for cash considerations, the baseball equivalent of “just take him off our roster.”
There is also the superficial comparison of both men being Venezuelans. Both played their way the long route through the minors, starting in the foreign rookie leagues as 16-year olds, and making their debut close to a decade later. The comparisons go deeper though, to the role they will occupy for the team.
The 2017 had an entrenched utility infielder who was capable in multiple positions, in Eduardo Escobar. The 2020 squad has Adrianza. In both cases, adding another solid utility man was a forward-looking move, as Escobar was traded to Arizona at the 2018 deadline, as an impending free agent. In this case Adrianza will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2020 season, creating a bit of a hole that Vargas looks likely to fill.
Speaking of Eduardo Escobar, he also comes from the same lineage. He was acquired from the Chicago White Sox in the Francisco Liriano trade. At the time, he was considered the “throw-in” piece, and Pedro Hernandez was considered the bigger asset—although history now shows us otherwise. He didn’t have the same MLB experience as Adrianza and Vargas in 2012 when the Twins acquired him, but fit a similar profile. He was in his age-23 season, another cheap team-controlled player. He’d been with the Sox for parts of two MLB seasons, in which he hit .213/.282/.277, the definition of a light-hitting middle infielder. For part of his time with the Twins, Escobar was considered a starter, but that was okay, because they had yet another similar utilityman.
Eduardo Nunez, another part the team’s important “all the Eds” strategy, was traded from the Yankees to the Twins in April of 2014 for minor league pitcher Miguel Sulbaran. At the time, Nunez was in his age-27 season, and you guessed it, had played in parts of four MLB seasons with the Yanks. With New York, he hit .267/.313/.379, making him a relative slugger in this group. He was still considered a glove-first infielder, and as usual, he could also play competent defense throughout the infield, and in a pinch, man an outfield corner as well. You can trace this lineage further back as well—to who else but LNP?
Nick Punto is still a fan-favorite around these parts, but who am I to tell you that? The meme-tastic gritty utilityman also fits this mold. He spent parts of three seasons with the Phillies before the Twins acquired him as part of the Eric Milton trade. With the Phillies, he hit .223/.273/.272. Punto, as with the rest of this list, was good enough to be an occasional starter, but was generally a super utility man, playing all over, and doing whatever Gardy asked of him. We might even be able to go further back, but I think I’ve proved my point.
Does all of this mean that Ildemaro Vargas is going to develop some power and become a reliable part of a MLB roster, before being traded when he gets expensive? Not necessarily, but this is certainly the type of move, and the player profile that the Twins have seen play out that way many times in the past.