Twins corner infielder/designated hitter Trevor Plouffe exited last night’s game with an oblique injury, and tests have revealed the 30-year-old to have both an oblique strain and an intercostal strain, as MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger tweets. Plouffe hopes to return before the end of the season, but Bollinger notes that it’s unlikely that Plouffe will have enough time to recover. Oblique injuries tend to linger for at least a month, and with a pair of strains, it seems quite possible that what has been an injury-riddled season for Plouffe will come to a close.
The greater question that should be asked, at this juncture, is whether Plouffe has played his final game as a member of the Twins. The former first-round pick (20th overall, 2004) was an oft-speculated trade candidate last winter thanks to the emergence of Miguel Sano and the signing of Korean slugger Byung Ho Park, but the Twins elected to hang onto Plouffe and try Sano in right field — an experiment that yielded dreadful results. The 6’4″, 260-pound Sano perhaps unsurprisingly graded out very poorly in right field (-8 DRS, -2.6 UZR in 312 innings) and was ultimately moved back to third base when Plouffe suffered a fractured rib that cost him six months of the season.
With Sano now seeing reps at third base and DH, Plouffe has rotated between third base (when Sano is DHing), first base and DH himself since returning from the disabled list. However, next season will present the Twins — who will be headed by a new front office regime — with a similar logjam, as Sano, Plouffe, Park and Joe Mauer will all be back in the mix. (For those wondering about the possibility, Mauer cannot return to catching given his concussion history.) With Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario likely handling regular outfield duties in 2017, there’s no obvious corner opening to move one of those pieces this time around.
Further complicating matters for Plouffe is that he’s endured his worst season since 2013. In addition to the current pair of muscle strains and the aforementioned rib fracture, Plouffe also missed nearly three weeks in late April/early May with another intercostal strain. Plouffe established himself as an average defender with a slightly above-average bat in 2014-15 when he hit .251/.317/.429 with 36 homers in 1214 plate appearances — good for a combined 5.9 fWAR and 6.5 rWAR. However, he was hitting just .252/.283/.399 at the time he landed on the DL in July due to the rib fracture. Plouffe has been hot since coming back (.277/.345/.465, five homers in 26 games), which has boosted his overall line to .260/.303/.420, but much of the 2016 season has been a struggle for him at the plate.
Plouffe will be arbitration-eligible for the final time this winter, and though he’s been slowed by injuries and hasn’t had his most productive year, he’ll still receive a raise this year’s $7.25MM salary. A salary in the $8-9MM range isn’t outlandish for a healthy Plouffe, but it may also be more than the Twins wish to pay him given the state of their roster, as currently constructed. Certainly, Plouffe could garner trade interest from clubs looking for short-term upgrades at the corner infield spots, though there’s also the possibility that a new president of baseball operations decides to cut bait simply by non-tendering him. Alternatively, the Twins could elect to move other pieces and keep Plouffe around for what will be his final season before hitting the free agent market.
With a number of avenues that the new-look front office could pursue, let’s open this one up for some crowd-sourcing (link to poll for Trade Rumors mobile app users)…