The Twins saw a variety of youngsters take significant steps forward in 2023 en route to their first victory in a postseason series since 2002, and perhaps none of those were more impactful than the breakouts of Royce Lewis and Edouard Julien. Long a top prospect whose career had been stalled by injuries, Lewis burst onto the scene in 2023 and slashed an incredible .309/.372/.548 with 15 homers and six stolen bases in just 239 trips to the plate last season while playing excellent defense at third base. Julien, by contrast, lacked Lewis’s prospect pedigree but put together perhaps an even more impressive rookie campaign. The 24-year-old slashed .263/.381/.459 in 408 trips to the plate as the club’s primary second baseman in 2023, with an incredible 15.7% walk rate that only Aaron Judge, Cavan Biggio, Joc Pederson, and Juan Soto managed to eclipse among rookie hitters (min. 400 PA) in the 21st century.
The incredible performances from both Lewis and Julien leave the Twins set up for success around in the infield for years to come, particularly if Carlos Correa manages to regain his All Star form and top prospect Brooks Lee is able to find similar success when he reaches the big leagues, which could happen as soon as 2024. This excess of infield talent has left longtime second baseman Jorge Polanco to face a great deal of uncertainty this offseason. The Twins haven’t been shy about their plans to cut payroll this offseason, and with each of Sonny Gray, Kenta Maeda, and Tyler Mahle having signed elsewhere this offseason after departing for free agency last month, the club is facing uncertanity in the rotation.
As such, dealing away the club’s longest-tenured player could allow Minnesota to leverage an area of considerable depth to fill out its pitching staff, while also saving $10.5MM in salary next season that could potentially be used to acquire even more pitching. That logic convinced MLBTR readers that Polanco should be dealt according to a poll back in October, where more than 56% voted in favor of the Twins dealing Polanco.
Given the clear incentives for the Twins to at least consider a Polanco trade, it’s hardly a surprise that the 30-year-old has garnered trade interest as recently as earlier this month from rival clubs. Even as the longtime infielder appears to be on the verge of getting squeezed out of the Twins’ infield mix, Polanco is still a quality everyday player. While he was limited to just 80 games this past season due to injuries, the switch-hitter nonetheless slashed a solid .255/.335/.454 (118 wRC+) while splitting time between second base, third base, and DH in 2023. That line is consistent with the numbers Polanco has posted throughout his time as an everyday player in the majors. Since he broke out as an above-average regular back in 2019, the infielder has slashed .267/.337/.458 with a wRC+ of 117. That’s good for ninth among qualified second baseman during that time span, just ahead of household names such as Gleyber Torres and Ozzie Albies.
While Polanco doesn’t generate much value with his glove, typically earning below-average marks by Outs Above Average and roughly average marks by Defensive Runs Saved, he makes up for it with his consistent, above-average offense and would be a clear upgrade for virtually any team in need of infield help ahead of the 2024 season. Further adding to Polanco’s value is his relatively affordable contract situation. As previously mentioned, Polanco is due just $10.5MM in 2024, an amount the majority of buying clubs should be able to stomach without much issue. What’s more, Polanco is not a pure rental thanks to a $12MM club option for 2024 that carries a fairly modest buyout of $750K.
Taken together, Polanco’s switch-hitting bat, offensive consistency, and affordable team control are surely an enticing package to plenty of clubs, even in spite of Polanco’s recent injury history and lackluster defense. With that said, which teams are the best fits for his services? The Angels, Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Guardians, Orioles, Padres, Phillies, Rangers, Rays, Reds, Red Sox, and Yankees all appear more or less set around the infield, while the A’s, Nationals, Rockies, Tigers, and White Sox all appear unlikely to spend significant money and prospect capital on a short-term infield solution. That still leaves nine teams as viable fits for Polanco’s services, however. Let’s take a look at how they match up…
- Blue Jays: The Jays have a clear need around the infield after losing Whit Merrifield and Matt Chapman to free agency, even after adding Isiah Kiner-Falefa. The club also recently lost their primary source of left-handed offense due to the departure of Brandon Belt. Polanco could help alleviate both of those issues as a switch-hitter who could add some pop to the lineup from the left side while slotting in as the club’s everyday second baseman, with the likes of Davis Schneider, Ernie Clement, and Santiago Espinal left to compete for the third base job alongside Kiner-Falefa. Meanwhile, mercurial right-hander Alek Manoah could surely entice the Twins as a potential return given his significant upside and the ability of depth starter Louie Varland to step into the rotation should Manoah struggle to regain the form he showed in 2022, when he was a finalist for the AL Cy Young award.
- Cubs: Few teams got worse production from their third base corps in 2023 than the Cubs, who needed to plug the hole by trading for Jeimer Candelario at the trade deadline last summer. With Candelario now suiting up for Cincinnati, the Cubs are once again left with a hole at third base and a dearth of left-handed pop in their lineup. The addition of Polanco could address both of those concerns; while the veteran infielder has primarily played second base during his career, he looked decent at the position when covering for Royce Lewis this past season and the Cubs had little issue converting Nick Madrigal from the keystone to the hot corner last spring. In exchange for Polanco’s services, the Cubs could dangle a young pitching prospect such as Hayden Wesneski or Ben Brown, both of whom have found themselves in the rumor mill this offseason.
- Mariners: After shipping Eugenio Suarez to Arizona earlier in the winter, the Mariners have plenty of room to improve upon their infield mix. Josh Rojas and Luis Urias are currently slated for everyday roles at second and third base, though the pair are likely better served platooning with each other. That opens the door for another infield addition, and Polanco could fit the bill as an everyday player at either position. While the switch-hitter is unlikely to net the Twins a young starter like Bryan Woo or Bryce Miller in trade (at least by himself), it’s possible a deal could come together centered around a less proven arm like Emerson Hancock.
Next Tier Down:
- Brewers: The Brewers have as significant of needs around the infield as any team, with little certainty anywhere outside of Willy Adames. Brice Turang and Andruw Monasterio appear to be the club’s current best options at second and third base respectively, but adding Polanco would give a significant boost to the club’s offense while taking pressure off the aforementioned pair of youngsters. While Milwaukee is as good of a fit as any club for Polanco’s services, the recent departures of Brandon Woodruff and Adrian Houser leave the Brewers seemingly unlikely to further weaken their rotation depth by trading a starter to Minnesota. Meanwhile, the club’s many outfielders likely hold little appeal for the Twins, who have a deep outfield mix of their own already.
- Giants: The Giants, at least on paper, have a fairly solid infield mix that includes J.D. Davis, Thairo Estrada, and Wilmer Flores. With that being said, the club has been connected to free agency’s top infielder in Matt Chapman this winter, and Polanco could be a reasonable fallback option for San Francisco to improve their offensive production on the infield dirt should they fail to land Chapman. The club also has a handful of interesting young pitchers like Tristan Beck who they could consider dealing, though the club is seemingly hoping to land a player with more star power than Polanco provides this winter.
- Marlins: The Marlins are seemingly perpetually interested in acquiring hitting reinforcements by leveraging their deep group of pitchers, and it appears this offseason is no different as the likes of Edward Cabrera, Jesus Luzardo, and Trevor Rogers have all found their names in the rumor mill. What’s more, the sides got together on just this sort of deal last offseason, when the Twins landed Pablo Lopez in exchange for Luis Arraez. Polanco would be something of a tricky positional fit for the Miami, though they could conceivably move Josh Bell to DH and shift Arraez back to first, opening up second base for Polanco.
- Mets: The Mets appeared to be content with their infield mix as recently as earlier this month, when it appeared that Joey Wendle, Ronny Mauricio, Brett Baty, and Mark Vientos would compete for playing time at third base while Francisco Lindor, Jeff McNeil, and Pete Alonso remained at their usual positions. That all changed when Mauricio suffered a torn ACL while playing winter ball, throwing the club’s infield plans into chaos. Even so, the Mets and Twins are something of an imperfect fit as trade partners. While Polanco’s two years of team control seemingly fits New York’s current strategy of making short-term additions that won’t encumber the team in the long haul, Polanco doesn’t offer the quality glove Mauricio did and his switch-hitting bat is likely less attractive given the number of lefty-swinging infielders the Mets already have at their disposal.
- Pirates: The Pirates evidently are looking to add a second baseman to their infield mix given their reported interest in a reunion with Adam Frazier, and the addition of Polanco would likely move the needle far more for the fourth-place club in 2024 should they hope to contend for the NL Central this season. The addition of Polanco would offer some veteran consistency to a young offense that dealt with extreme peaks and valleys throughout the 2023 campaign, and his 118 wRC+ last year would’ve been the best on Pittsburgh’s offense last year. With that being said, the Pirates still have a long way to go to catch up to the rest of the NL Central in 2024, and their rotation has even more question marks than Minnesota’s, rendering them unlikely to deal away a rotation piece like the Twins figure to seek.
- Royals: Trades within a division are exceptionally rare, particularly when both clubs are seemingly hoping to contend in the coming season. With that being said, there’s at least an on-paper fit between the Royals and Twins for a Polanco deal. Kansas City needs offense even after adding Hunter Renfroe in free agency earlier this month, and Polanco would represent a massive upgrade over Michael Massey at the keystone. Meanwhile, the Royals could offer a package centered around a young arm like Kris Bubic or Alec Marsh who may be squeezed out of the club’s rotation mix by the recent additions of Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha. It’s also worth noting that Kansas City and Minnesota got together on a notable trade as recently as last offseason, when the Royals sent Michael A. Taylor to the Twins in exchange for a pair of relief prospects.