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A short stop or a long stay for Simba?

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The Royce Lewis injury throws a wrench in the Twins’ plans

MLB.com/Rhett Bollinger

When the Twins signed shortstop Andrelton Simmons to a 1-year, $10.5 million contract, it seemed as though the long-term plan at shortstop was in place. Incumbent Jorge Polanco would move to second base, Luis Arraez would shift to a super-utility role, Simmons would play for one year, and top prospect Royce Lewis would take over at short in 2022. Because the Twins cannot have nice things, Lewis, the former number one overall pick in the MLB draft, tore his ACL after slipping on ice in Texas. On the list of likely injuries going into the offseason, one involving ice in Texas had to be pretty low on the draft board, but here we are. With Lewis expected to miss the entire 2021 season and likely having to re-establish himself in the upper minors in 2022, the long-term answer at the shortstop position has once again become a murky situation.

SIMBA’S KINGDOM?

One option the Twins will have to consider is the possibility that Simmons might be able to recapture the form that has made him a historically-good defensive shortstop. Using Baseball Reference’s Runs from Fielding statistic, Simmons has posted the third-highest total in the HISTORY of Major League shortstops, only trailing Mark Belanger and Ozzie Smith. The most impressive part is that Simmons has posted a total of 191.0 runs in just 1006 games, which is significantly less that amount of games for both Belanger (240.7 runs in 2016 games) and Smith (238.7 runs in 2573 games). Almost every defensive metric that you can find regarding Simmons shows that he can make a legitimate argument as the best defensive shortstop in the history of the MLB. Simmons has also posted a career OPS+ of 91, which isn’t on the level of Mike Trout by any means, but he’s far from an easy out. With all of the accolades and statistics, however, there is a reason that Simmons was only inked to a one-year contract with the Twins.

One of the main detractors for Simmons has been his health. Over the last two seasons, a lingering ankle issue has hampered Simmons and caused him to miss a significant part of each season. Simmons had mostly been durable in his previous experience in the MLB, but now that he is entering his age-31 season, the lingering ankle injury caused teams to have trepidation about a multi-year contract. As a shortstop with a taller stature, one can’t help but to think of the recent decline of a fellow defensive wizard, Troy Tulowitzki. Injuries largely led to the rapid decline of Tulowitzki in his 30s, but the hope is that Simmons is fully healthy, and will stay that way. The Twins will have a front-row seat to what Simmons has to offer, and if he is able to stay healthy and play even close to his previous powers, Simmons becomes an option to return to the Twins in 2022. With that being said, the Twins will have some other options.

IN-HOUSE OPTIONS

Jorge Polanco: The Twins could come crawling back to Jorge Polanco with the “it wasn’t you, it was us” speech, and apologize to him like Happy Gilmore did to Chubbs Peterson. With that being said, it would not be an ideal scenario, as Polanco was removed from shortstop because of his questionable arm strength and more natural fit at second base. Despite starting an All Star Game at shortstop, Polanco does not provide an ideal long-term option as the shortstop, but could be used there in a pinch.

Luis Arraez: Since the acquisition of Simmons, Arraez has been relegated to a role similar to the one occupied by Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza over the last couple of seasons. It remains to be seen what the Twins will do on days Simmons is out of the lineup, as hoping for 150 games out of Simmons is a highly unlikely scenario. It would seem as though the Twins would be more apt to return Polanco to shortstop before Arraez, so he can be ruled out as a long-term option at short.

Royce Lewis: While Lewis appeared to be the assumed option for 2022 and beyond at short, his ACL injury will put a stunt in his development, and will cause more questions than answers. Even through his minor-league development, questions have persisted about Lewis’ ability to stick at shortstop. An ACL injury will only add to the notion that Lewis may not be a shortstop moving forward. He is highly unlikely to be ready to start the 2022 season as the Twins’ shortstop, and he will have to prove he can stick at shortstop to be the long-term solution.

Nick Gordon: The fifth pick of the 2014 draft, Gordon has had a steady, yet unspectacular rise to the upper minor leagues for the Twins. In 2019, Gordon was having a bounce-back season at Triple-A, but injury and illness hampered him throughout the season. After losing the 2020 season, Gordon is looking to find his way onto the Twins’ roster. Gordon is listed as a “contact-oriented” hitter and a “fringe-average” defender by MLB.com’s prospect ranking, which has Gordon as the Twins’ #16 prospect at age 25. Gordon will have a lot to prove in 2021 in order to put himself in the discussion as a Major League regular, instead of organizational depth.

Wander Javier: Javier was the crown jewel of the Twins’ 2015 international class, signing for $4 million. Since then, Javier has largely battled injury throughout his minor league career, but is still oozing with tools, as he still ranks as the Twins’ #9 prospect heading into the season. Javier is a longshot to be the Twins’ shortstop for 2022, however, as he has not played above Low-A ball, and had a dreadful season in 2019 for Cedar Rapids. His bat will have to match his tools moving forward, but he appears to be one prospect that is a cinch to remain at shortstop in the future. His calling card will be his defense, but his bat will need to take a big step forward in 2021 if he is to put himself into the Twins’ future plans at shortstop.

Other options: On the Twins’ 40-man roster, some other shortstops include Tzu-Wei Lin, Andrew Romine, and JT Riddle, who will all serve as more organizational depth than starting options. Deeper in the minor leagues, 2019 draft picks Keoni Cavaco and Will Holland have caught the eyes of some prospect publications, but they won’t be playing in the big leagues anytime soon.

OUT-OF-HOUSE OPTIONS

Another approach for the Twins may be to find a replacement from outside of their organization. If that is the direction that the Twins choose to go, they are walking into an incredibly deep free agent pool for the 2022 season. Below are some of the options the Twins will potentially have available in free agency after next season.

spotrac.com

Right off the bat, Lindor, Story, Baez, and Seager can probably be eliminated from the Twins’ wishlist, given their previous history of spending on free agents. Correa also seems like a highly unlikely scenario for the Twins. Semien provides an interesting choice, as the Twins were known to be interested in him in the previous offseason, but he will be moving to third base for the Blue Jays. Crawford has been a good shortstop for the better part of a decade, but it’s hard to imagine the Twins investing in a 35 year old shortstop. In terms of free agency, the Twins will likely be looking again in the tier of Simmons if they choose to go that route. Fortunately for the Twins, they will have the best scouting report of all on Simmons, including being able to have the best medical evaluation. If Simmons is able to stay healthy, it looks very much as though he may also be the best option for the Twins in 2022.