Jorge Polanco was installed as the Twins regular shortstop on Aug. 7, 2016.
He has held the job, with the exception of a half-season lost to suspension (2018). He has not played any other position since then. His 444 career starts at short are the most for Minnesota since Cristian Guzman left some 15 years ago, and Polanco performed well enough to be get a long-term contract with the Twins.
And now, bolt from the blue, he’s a second baseman.
Well, maybe not so surprising. Even though Polanco’s tenure at short survived a front-office makeover and a change in managers, it often seemed that Paul Molitor — deposed as manager after the 2018 season — was the only decision-maker in the organization convinced that Polanco belonged there.
Polanco never quite passed the eyeball test at shortstop. The arm was a touch too weak, the range a tad short, the hands not quite soft enough. The skill set to be a quality major league shortstop is rare, and Polanco was stretched to fill the role.
But the bat is genuine — Polanco has been a fixture in a key lineup role under both Molitor and Rocco Baldelii — and second base, the position for which he always seemed best suited, was in the hands of players even less equipped for the demands of shortstop. The Twins for years minimized Polanco’s shortcomings with aggressive positioning and embraced the tradeoff.
But now Andrelton Simmons is the Twins shortstop, and there is no doubting his defensive pedigree. Simmons has four Gold Gloves and is generally regarded as the finest fielding shortstop since at least Omar Vizquel, perhaps since Ozzie Smith.
Simmons’ arrival — on a one-year free agent deal — bounces Polanco to second and forces Luis Arraez into the multi-position role held the past two years by Marwin Gonzalez, which is probably worth a column itself.
In theory, this shuffle upgrades both middle infield positions. The Twins imported two veteran starting pitchers and remade their bullpen, but the biggest move they made to “improve the pitching” was Simmons.
Of course, this assumes that Simmons, who turned 31 in September and had injury issues in the short 2020 season, isn’t on a steep decline slope. Again: it is an athletically demanding position, and thirty-somethings typically don’t last long.
But Simmons, at least if you ignore the small sample size of 2020, starts from a high peak. He can decline from his 2019 level of play and still be better afield than Polanco.
And, as noted, it’s a one-year deal. It’s likely that the Twins’ vision for the future doesn’t include multiple seasons of Simmons at short, or the return of Polanco to the position. It has Royce Lewis, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2017, taking the job as early as 2022.
Assuming there is a 2022 season — but that’s, again, grist for another (depressing) column.
Edward Thoma is at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @bboutsider.