Okay, the title ignores the whole shortstop situation, but hear me out. Actually it also ignores the catcher issue as well, but just keep reading. I’ll briefly address them later.
When @vikingsfan1936 commented “Failvine found there missing piece …” and “World Sereis here we come” under Dan Hayes’s tweets about the Twins’ trade for Kyle Farmer and resigning of Kyle Garlick, respectively, he might not actually be too far off the mark. Obviously, no one would say that the Two Kyles solve all the problems that the Twins face, but there may be some interesting strategy in development.
The term “set the floor” has been thrown around quite a bit in regards to the acquisition of Farmer; his presence provides a shortstop that the team can, at minimum, tolerate while holding its nose and paying ~6M for the season. However, the floor could have also been set with the likes of Elvis Andrus, Aledmys Diaz, or Jose Iglesias. Hell, old friend Andrelton Simmons or phantom signing Johan Camargo could technically fill the role of Floor without giving up a mid-level prospect in the process. So why did the Twins go out of their way to snatch up Kyle Farmer before the Reds likely non-tendered him? One reason: his ability to kill two birds with one stone and be the Floor at both shortstop and catcher.
Kidding, of course. His catching background is nice to have in a team’s back pocket and satisfy the Ron Gardenhire 3-Catcher-Quota, but the real reason is that the Twins plan on using him as a vital piece of the lineup on a regular basis. Assuming that the team manages to sign or otherwise acquire another shortstop, relegating Farmer to a utility infielder, the lineup against righties would look something like this:
SS: <insert shortstop>
There’s likely some give on this, and an assumption that Larnach and Kirilloff are both healthy and ready to perform, but, should they not be, the in-house replacements are Nick Gordon and Matt Wallner, which is less than ideal, but it’s what they’ve got. And did I mention that they’re also both lefties?
We all know what Kyle Garlick is here to do, and that’s to mash lefties (130 wRC+ in the past two years), play a passable left field, and look like a sexy firefighter in the dugout when there isn’t a lefty on the mound. As was noted quickly after the trade by members of Twins Territory, Kyle Farmer also has very fun splits versus lefthanded pitching, with a wRC+ 22% above league average and an absurd triple slash line last year of .309/.380/.568 (.948 OPS) in 158 plate appearances. Farmer has the additional value over Garlick of also being a serviceable option at shortstop defensively and a good fielder at both second and third base, which is where a platoon strategy comes into play.
Platoons are great. In the absence of an all-star player, a team can opt to selectively play two players in opportunities that suit their strengths, often based on handedness. Lefties hit righthanded pitchers better, righties hit southpaws better. Everyone knows this. The Twins have the misfortune of having lefties in both corner outfield positions, first base, and designated hitter at the present, which are the top four positions counted on to provide offensive thump. This is an issue when facing a lefthanded hurler, and it’s shown in recent years as the squad has struggled against lefties for the past three years with an OPS below league average.
So, let’s do a little plug-and-play. Let’s say that Garlick will play left field and Farmer will play third base. This will slide Miranda over to first base vs. lefties. For the sake of argument, we’ll let Kepler and Larnach alternate games in right, and Arraez and Kirilloff will split games at DH (could also be first base with Miranda DHing, but stop questioning me). Here’s what we’re looking at, along with each player’s wRC+ vs lefties last year.
C: Jeffers (161)
1B: Miranda (132)
2B: Polanco (75)**
3B: Farmer (157)
SS: <insert shortstop>
LF: Garlick (128)
CF: Buxton (159)
* lefthanded hitter
** let’s hope Polanco can get at least back up to his 93 career wRC+ and hopefully closer to his 118 between 2020 & 2021, or I’ll look real silly
We’ve now worked our way down to two spots in the lineup occupied by lefties when the Twins face a LHP. And those numbers look like a lot of fun. Scanning the rest of the in-house options for righties brings us to Gilberto Celestino, who is actually a worse hitter vs. LHP than any of the lefties at the bottom of that lineup. It ought to be noted that virtually all shortstops available as free agents or rumored to be trade targets to any extent (except for lefty Brandon Crawford) are righthanded hitters, so they would all fit well into this lineup as well.
But if we take this one step further, we can arrive at a solid, balanced team that can succeed against both right- and lefthanded pitchers. And that, finally, brings us to the real reason I wrote this blog. Did you really think this was another “No, seriously, guys, Kyle Farmer is actually a galaxy-brain move and not cringe Falvine at it again, liking a good deal better than a good player, stop laughing!!!!” blog?
The Twins need a solid righthanded bat that can play a corner infield spot or first base, and it doesn’t need to be a stud. Jose Abreu was snapped up yesterday by the Astros, removing potentially the biggest bat from the group. Although it would be great to bring in high-upside, belle-of-the-ball guys like Willson Contreras as that last piece of righty oompf, the front office can reasonably aim lower and still do a good job at rounding out this squad.
If the team has the budget to pay for a Josh Bell– Mitch Hanniger– or Juickson Profar type, those guys are available and would fit the bill. I would personally like to see money spent on a shortstop, but if the value is right and the money is there, why not? We can go down the ladder to a few more reasonable options.
Andrew McCutchen brings name recognition and a great clubhouse reputation, providing some true experience to a group of players who are largely in their 20s still, and he can be penciled in in left most days, though his age seems to be catching up to him. The same goes for J.D. Martinez, who has been one of the league’s most dependable hitters as he reaches his mid-30s, though he’s also showing signs of slowing down and would be restricted to DH. Brandon Drury had something of a pop-up season, and his market has yet to be determined, but if pro scouting believes in him, he could also fit into those plans and have more positional flexibility than the rest of the names on this list, except maybe Profar.
Trey Mancini and Wil Myers are two names that have been getting thrown around for several teams as easy targets to fill a similar role with some level of positional flexibility. Brandon Warne seems to think that Luke Voit could be a match as a plug-and-play option at first. The list goes on and on. The bar for a serviceable righthanded corner outfielder/first baseman/designated hitter is so low. Personally, I’d love to see the team take a flyer on Adam Duvall to have a bounce back year returning from wrist surgery. His numbers look rough in his injury-shortened age-33 year, but he was really turning it on in with a 136 wRC+ in the 8 weeks before his injury after an abysmally slow start (49 wRC+ prior to May 28), and he provides centerfield insurance.
All that is to say that the team acquiring one righthanded, starting-caliber player to provide some thump should not be a tall task. That player may result in one of the corner outfielders being pushed out (likely Kepler, but Larnach and Kirilloff as well, for the right price, could be on the move). If that additional player is a first baseman (Bell, Voit, Mancini unless you really squint) or DH-only (Martinez), Kirilloff would get more play out in left field. Moving Larnach over to right seems to be less of a scary topic given the solid arm that he’s always been known to have and his surprising range exhibited last season. Gordon can also be used to take on some of the work against righties if, for example, a McCutchen-type signing struggles to hit vs. RHP consistently but can still knock around the lefties.
Bonus points for signing Omar Narvaez and allowing Jeffers to bash lefties to his heart’s content, too.
Would you like to see the Twins add a righty bat? If so, who would be your #1 choice?