Jorge Polanco Goes Down for 80
The Twins’ offseason was quaint until Sunday’s announcement. MLB handed Jorge Polanco a suspension for the start of 2018. He gets 80 games in response to his positive test for the drug Stanozolol, a violation of MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. The response has been typical. The Twins “fully support Major League Baseball.” Polanco “did not intentionally consume” the steroid, adding that “intention alone is not a good enough excuse.”
He was no superstar, but the “enough” that Polanco could have given the Twins might not be recreated in just one half of a season. In the field, despite a weak arm, Polanco was the 19th best defensive shortstop last year and 13th best overall by WAR. Improved pitch recognition bettered Polanco’s production at the plate in 2017. He slipped his O-Swing% to 23.6 in the second-half and saw his wRC+ jump from 53 to 128. His season totals are unimpressive, but his second-half keeps them at unimpressive instead of dismal. There are better shortstops, but he gave the Twins what they needed to contend.
The next man up now is Eduardo Escobar, one of the league’s better offensive backups, which he proved as Miguel Sano’s substitute last year. His buy into the flyball revolution helped. He paid with doubles for home runs in 2017 even if his singles were swapped for flyouts. Offensively, Escobar is an enviable short-term replacement. It’s responsibility for a straight half of a season that may be too much to put on him, even while sharing time with Ehire Adrianza and potentially Erick Aybar.
Minnesota’s playoff odds are at 30.4% nonetheless, with only four projected wins of separation from the second AL Wild Card spot. Even before signing Lance Lynn to finally address the dire need for starting pitching, the Twins made moves this winter that didn’t dazzle enough to distract from a dull offseason but did push the team forward. Losing a starting shortstop for 80 games is a brief interruption of the Twins on their merry way and casts a bit more doubt onto 30.4%. The foundations aren’t shaken, but they might be stirred.