When the Minnesota Twins decided to non-tender C.J. Cron it immediately created another position of need for the 2020 club. Joining the necessity to add starting pitching and a backup catcher, they’ll now must figure out who plays first base. The question is, was the decision part of a grander plan?
After grabbing Cron following his DFA from the Tampa Bay Rays last offseason, Minnesota got a tale of two halves from their first basemen. Through May Cron had an .866 OPS and that number was still .833 at the end of June. He went on the injured list for the first time on July 7. At that point he had an .821 OPS and he returned nine days later only to make a second IL trip on the 22nd on July.
From the time he returned on August 3, he posted just a .702 OPS and seven homers across 149 plate appearances. Gone was the power hitter that started the year so well for Minnesota.
Having undergone offseason surgery to address the issue with his thumb, something he has done previously in his career, the health status of the California native will remain largely up in the air until spring training begins. Judging by their decision to non-tender, it seems that was a risk that the Twins were unwilling to take. But what do they do now?
Well, if there was one thing that substantially failed the Twins down the stretch last year it was defense. Byron Buxton being on the shelf didn’t help the outfield at all, but the infield struggled to stay above water as well.
Miguel Sano proved limited in his lateral movement, Jorge Polanco’s throws were often erratic, and Luis Arraez posted negative defensive numbers despite being otherworldly at the dish. If Rocco Baldelli wants that to take a step forward, shuffling some pieces on the dirt makes some sense.
The growing sentiment is that Miguel Sano can slide over to first base. That seems like his most likely position long-term unless he’s going to be a designated hitter. He would need to put in significant work to be capable there given the number of scoops Cron saved for his fielders in 2019.
Footwork is also a drastic change across the diamond, and while Sano is plenty good enough as an athlete to do this, it would absolutely be a work in progress. From a net gain perspective for the team however, there’s probably the most room for growth by acquiring an elite third basemen.
On this year’s market there are just two players that fit the bill: Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rendon. They couldn’t be more different from a compensation and future perspective and they offer drastically differing opportunities. Donaldson is a larger risk due to age and injury but comes at a muted cost.
Rendon has the probability of being a perennial MVP candidate, but will be close to breaking the bank for years to come. Should Minnesota venture down either of these paths, the substantial step forward at third would likely boost Polanco on that side as well. You acquire a plus bat with a glove that plays well above average at the hot corner and the defensive acumen begins to turn up.
I’m not suggesting that it’s Donaldson, Rendon, or bust for the Twins. Maybe they have an eye on a non-tender like Travis Shaw, maybe they believe Alex Kirilloff or Brent Rooker is ready, or maybe someone not currently on the radar becomes an option.
It does seem logical to believe that with Cron being moved on from, a shift on the infield dirt is coming. I’d bet on regression for almost all lineups across baseball in 2020, so how you handle the other facets of the game will wind up being the difference in who sinks or swims.
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