The Minnesota Twins have struggled to keep a starting shortstop ever since Cristian Guzman left via free agency after the 2004 season and signed with the Washington Nationals.
Maybe it’s time to return the favor and take a shortstop away from Washington.
Ian Desmond garnered three consecutive Silver Slugger awards from 2012 to 2014, but he dipped off a bit this past season. This down year might wind up hurting him because it was a contract year. This opens up the door for a team to come away with steal if Desmond can return to being an elite offensive shortstop.
Minnesota is a team that could use a little power surge in 2016 to bolster its offense. Upgrading the shortstop position is one place that general manager Terry Ryan can look to improve. The Twins got just nine home runs from the shortstop position in 2015. Desmond — in a down year offensively for him — still found a way to hit 19 of them, his lowest total since 2011. He is averaging 64 extra base hits and 83 runs batted in per 162 games over the past four seasons, while Minnesota’s shortstops only drove in 60 runs with 58 extra base hits last year.
While signing Desmond would bring a very talented player into the mix, there are a few factors that might make the team shy away from pulling the trigger. The biggest one is the late season success for Eduardo Escobar, who jumped into the shortstop role and took off mid-season when the Twins finally decided to demote Danny Santana back to the minors. Before Santana’s demotion, Escobar was used as a reserve infielder and corner outfielder, but found little success playing just once or twice a week. The 26-year-old Venezuelan hit .286 after August 1 with an impressive 18 doubles.
The end of Escobar’s season certainly has earned him the opportunity to start on Opening Day next year and the next year-to-year Twins shortstop could very well be right in front of them. Minnesota also has 20-year-old shortstop prospect in Nick Gordon — the fifth ranked prospect in the team’s system and 77th overall according to MLB.com — flying up through the minors, meaning he might arrive at the big league level before any sort of long-term deal for Desmond ends. It might be wise for the Twins to roll with Escobar while they wait for Gordon, who some believe has the talent to be one of baseball’s best shortstops.
But if the opportunity is there to reel Desmond in, it might be hard for the Twins to say no. Manager Paul Molitor would be able to place him anywhere in the order and have it work out. Desmond has the power to bat somewhere around cleanup hitter Miguel Sano, but he has also stolen over 20 bases in four of the last five seasons and has the speed to bat towards the top of the lineup as well. Escobar is very limited as to where he can hit with such sporadic power numbers and he was also just 2-for-5 on stolen base attempts in 2015, having swiped just six bases in 385 career games.