Much fuss has been made on this blog recently in regards to Minnesota's complete lack of a No. 2 hitter to bat behind Denard Span . I hold to my belief that it is the most important hole that remains to be filled, and should be taken care of before the starting rotation is addressed.
This decade, the average on-base-percentage of a No. 2 hitter in the American League is .338. The past ten years, the Twins have had anything but a consistent batter hitting behind the lead-off man. This past season Orlando Cabrera received the most at-bats in the No. 2 position, accruing a miserable OBP of .313. Before him, in 2008, Alexi Casilla was the regular No. 2 hitter, with a .333 OBP.
In fact, throughout the decade, just once has Minnesota been able to field a team with an above-average No. 2 hitter. In '07 Jason Bartlett put up a .337 OBP, in '05 Nick Punto sported a .301 OBP, and from '04 to '00 Cristian Guzman posted a combined OBP of .308.
The only year Minnesota has benefited from an above-average No. 2 hitter was in 2006, when Punto put up a .353 OBP in 90 games from the No. 2 position.
Placido Polanco has a career OBP of .348, ten points above the AL's average from the No. 2 spot in the batting order this decade. Without considering Polanco's defense, speed, or power, the potential acquisition already makes a lot of sense, even though some in Minnesota are tired of stop-gap solutions in the infield.
As far as UZR is concerned, Polanco would be no defensive liability in the Minnesota infield. Ranked as the best defensive second-baseman last season, Polanco committed just two errors in 151 games last season for a fielding percentage of .997. Distrust fielding percentage though I may, you can't push the "Small Sample Size" button on that stat.
On the basepaths, Polanco is much less valuable. Contributing an estimated 1.3 runs to the Tigers last year, Polanco wasn't an effective base-stealer, but more than made up for it in his EqAAR (Equivalent Air Advancement Runs). Despite being the 103rd best overall base-runner , Polanco was ranked 9th in EqAAR , meaning that he made wise decisions regarding when to take an extra base.
Offensively, Polanco hit .285/.331/.396 with an OPS of 727. Although he has no real power to speak of, Polanco did launch ten homeruns this past season, the first time he's hit double-digits in that category in over four years. (Though none of those ten were "no-doubters ," indicating that he will regress to his recent mean of six or seven.)
Overall, though, Polanco is a solid offensive player with a great defensive glove. Earning 3.1 WAR this past season with Detroit, Polanco is supposedly worth $14 million per season on the free agent market. Having made just $4.6 million the last four years, though, a payday that big is unlikely. Considering his age, Polanco is probably going to continue to receive around $5 million per season, with perhaps a few million more as incentive for staying healthy.
Even at $8 million per season, the Twins have the extra money needed to sign the 33-year-old veteran. Considering the (presumably) $5 million the Twins will owe JJ Hardy for his services next season, the Twins should still have around $14 million in budget room for the 2010 season. Even though some money needs to be saved for the potential restructuring of Joe Mauer 's contract, Polanco cannot be considered too expensive.
(UPDATE - Completely forgot to mention the fact that Polanco is a Type A free agent, meaning the Twins will be forced to surrender a first-round draft pick to the Tigers if they choose to sign the veteran second-baseman. Thanks to TwinsOnTwins for reminding me of this, but it still should be apparent that Polanco is worth the draft pick.)
Sticking Polanco into the Twins' lineup would do nothing but good. Besides providing Minnesota with an above-average bat to stick into the No. 2 hole in the batting order, Polanco would give the Twins one of the best defensive infields in all of baseball.
Originally published at TwinsTarget.com .