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Maybe the brightest of bright spots for the Minnesota Twins in 2015 was the play of their infield. Its success was built largely on half-season standout performances, and a few disappointments, but they enter 2016 with the biggest question being if they have too much depth on the corners.
Shortstop and catcher are the biggest gaps. Eduardo Escobar likely earned the right to not be replaced by a free agent signing at shortstop, but he has potential internal competition lurking. Meanwhile, catching has needed an overhaul that should be aided in free agency or via trade.
Here to stay
Jul 17, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier (2) hit a solo run homer against Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Sonny Gray (not pictured) during the first inning at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Mauer: What else is there to do with him but run him out there everyday? He’s owed more than $20 million a year through 2018, and just put up a career-worst offensive season. General Manager Terry Ryan thinks he can hit .300 again, but his value is significantly down as a first baseman, where he regressed defensively in 2015. On the bright side, he played 158 games, providing a reliable source of innings.
Miguel Sano: Where he plays is the biggest question. The Twins have been adamant he won’t be a DH while this young and will get him time in the field, likely at first and third. Regardless, early Steamer projections have him at 34 home runs, 96 RBI and a 2.9 WAR in 2016. He’s the offensive star.
Brian Dozier: A brutal second half sort of overshadowed a great overall line that included 28 home runs. Better yet, he improved defensively, too. There’s suggestion his power goes down at some point, but he’ll still sit among the best power hitters at second base. He’s under contract through 2018.
Something to prove
Eduardo Escobar: An impressive second half should give the front office enough confidence to open the year with him at shortstop. The biggest question for the 26-year-old is if he can do it for a full season. Consistency will keep him in the lineup, and a strong finish takes Ian Desmond off the wish list.
Trevor Plouffe: Off-season talks around Plouffe won’t go away until he’s dealt or July passes. He was better and worse in a variety of categories last year, but he was still a 20-homer, 2-WAR player with an estimated $7+ million in arbitration value this year. That’s cheap for a lot of teams, Twins included. With Torii Hunter retired, the logjam among him, Mauer and Sano for 1B/3B/DH time clears up enough he may not be dealt.
Mar 3, 2015; Ft. Myers, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco (11) poses during photo day at Hammond Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Jorge Polanco: A top-5 organizational prospect, Polanco hasn’t seen enough big-league time to fairly judge. He’s been at shortstop, but scouts tend to like him at second. Does he get a chance to unseat Escobar down the road or does he become part of a larger trade?
Kurt Suzuki: Returned to numbers closer to career average than 2014 when he hit .288. He’s a .255 career hitter with a reputation as a very good defender. Last year was his first negative-WAR season, and at 33 years old, there’s enough reason to platoon him. He’s signed through 2016 with a vesting $6M option for 2017 at 485 plate appearances.
The question marks
Danny Santana and Eduardo Nunez: Santana seems more likely to make the team as a fourth outfield option with spot starts at shortstop if Polanco goes/stays down. He’s always projected as a backup, but he needs to show he’s worth even that projection. As for Nunez, he had a surprising 72-game performance, posting a 1.5 WAR. He turned into a super utility player in the infield and outfield. He could be an off-center trade candidate due to his versatility, but he could be non-tendered if the Twins determine there’s not a roster spot for him.
Chris Herrmann: The worst-case scenario backup to Suzuki. Not a lot to write home about for the one-time top-15 organizational prospect.
Josmil Pinto: Largely a man without a position as he’s not a catcher or a DH.
Kennys Vargas: Lots of potential power, not enough defense to play in the field, and last year proved not enough offense to keep him at DH. He likely sticks around thanks to his price tag, but a bench role in Minnesota or Triple-A is the question.
Jonathan Lucroy (C): A top trade target for any team needing a legitimate catching upgrade. It seems likely the Brewers wait until July for his value to rise coming off an injury-plagued 2015. He could cost a a pretty penny of prospects, which the Twins aren’t short of.
Mar 2, 2015; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski (15) pose for photo day at Wide World of Sports. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
A.J. Pierzynski (C): If not Lucroy, then a reunion with Pierzynski. He should come cheap, but it won’t be like the Twins are the only ones after him. He proved a lot in Atlanta in 2015 both at the plate and in the field. There’s something left in the tank at 38.
Matt Wieters (C): The Twins may be mentioned as in the mix for the top free agent catcher, but that’s as far it goes. For starters, Scott Boras is his agent, which can’t bode well for the payroll-deficient Twins. Then there’s the likely qualifying offer from Baltimore that would cost a draft pick. Wieters is also a Mauer-build catcher, whose size will eventually catch up to his knees and back.
Asdrubal Cabrera (SS): Turning 30 this winter, he’s viewed as the consolation prize to Desmond. Offensively, not a great hitter, but consistent. Not very strong in his defensive metrics either. Behind him the free agent market at shortstop is even murkier with consistency.