Monday, August 8, 2016

Painted Into A Corner (Infield Crunch)

Photo Credit: Richard Mackson, USA Today Sports
Something had to change. MLB rosters are limited to 25 active players each day and someone wasn't going to be around when Trevor Plouffe returned from injury. Paul Molitor discussed the possibility of demoting Miguel Sano before his big weekend in Tampa Bay. Sano stayed and Byron Buxton was expendable as he continues to struggle at baseball's highest level.

This recent roster shake-up brought to the forefront a glaring roster issue. Minnesota currently has a plethora of options when it comes to corner infielders and designated hitters. There are also other alternatives playing well in the minor leagues. It's important to have plenty of hitting options but the Twins 40-man roster is overloaded and something is going to have to change moving in 2017.

Each player offers a different skill set so the new general manager will likely have some tough decisions to make in regards to each of these players.

Joe Mauer, 1B
Contract Status: Signed thru 2018
Mauer is in year six of his eight year deal and this season marked his third since being forced to move out from behind the plate. He has been one of the best defensive first baseman in the American League. His offensive numbers have struggled as he transitioned to first base but there have been flashes of the old Mauer this season as he has posted a .382 OBP and a .795 OPS. Mauer isn't going anywhere so he will be part of the big picture next season.

Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Contract Status: Arbitration Eligible 2017, Free Agent 2018
Plouffe's days in Minnesota seemed to be numbered and he might have already been traded if he were healthy leading into this year's trade deadline. Plouffe became serviceable at third base after working hard on his defense but those skills seem to be declining now that he is in his 30's. He's hit 14 or more home runs in each of the last four seasons and has a career OPS over .720.  With younger and cheaper options already on the roster, this might be Plouffe's last season in Minnesota.

Miguel Sano, 3B/DH
Contract Status: Arbitration Eligible 2019, Free Agent 2022
There was probably little chance of Sano putting up the number he did during his 80 game rookie campaign. Things were going to come back down to earth. Minnesota's attempt to turn him into an outfielder was a massive failure and now he has struggled as he transitions back to third base. He currently ranks fifth on the team in fWAR and his 18 home runs are four behind Brian Dozier for the team lead. Even with the rumblings out the Twin Cities that Sano might not be working hard enough, he's still on track to be one of baseball's best power hitters.

Kennys Vargas, 1B/DH
Contract Status: Arbitration Eligible 2018, Free Agent 2022
Vargas has been up and down during his big league tenure. He showed some promising signs as a rookie back in 2014 with nine home runs and a .772 OPS across 53 games. Last year wasn't nearly as good as he struggled to hit over .240 and his slugging percentage dipped to .349. Since being recalled this season, Vargas has been one of the team's best hitters. Vargas is hitting .278/.404/.569 with 13 extra-base hits in 21 games. If he continues this pace, Minnesota might have to consider him for the full-time DH role in 2017.

Byung-Ho Park, 1B/DH
Contract Status: Signed thru 2019, Team Option for 2020
Park held his own during the first month of the season with a .848 OPS and six home runs. Things took a nose dive from there as he hit .136/.224/.303 for the month of June. In 26 games since being demoted to Triple-A, he has hit nine home runs and compiled a .862 OPS. However, his batting average is .234 and he's only getting on base 31% of the time. With other players doing well in front of him, there doesn't look to be a spot for Mr. Park. His story line will be an interesting one to follow in the coming months.

Even with this list of players, there are others making their way to Target Field that could be better suited for a designated hitter role. Adam Brett Walker continues to mash home runs at every level. Daniel Palka has been powerful during his first season in the organization and could be added to the 40-man roster in the off-season. Where do both of these players fit into the team's long-term plans?

Minnesota's offense seems to be clicking so maybe having lots of power hitting options is a positive. This still leaves the new general manager with an interesting corner to paint themselves out of during the offseason. Time will tell about which players will make their mark for 2017 and beyond.

If you are the GM, what corner infield options will be on your roster? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

1 comment:

TT said...

What the Twins have is a surplus of DH's. They have two first baseman, Mauer and Park, and a third baseman in Plouffe.

It is apparent Sano was in right field because the Twins wanted his bat in the lineup, he was not ready to play third base in the big leagues and they didn't want to turn him into a DH at age 22. He needs to spend next year at Rochester learning to play the field. He has the tools to be a good third baseman, but its going to take some work. The Twins need to stop rushing guys to the big leagues with a half-set of major league skills. They hype may be good immediate PR for getting fans excited, but the first couple months of this season are the ultimate result.

Vargas role is likely as a DH and a backup at first base. He is an alternative to Park if Park never figures out American pitching. Until they start making contact more often, Palka and Walker are just interesting minor league sluggers.

You left Polanco off this list, but his ultimate position may be third base if he can't stay in the middle of the infield. His bat may or may not play there.