The Twins will open the season in 10 days without their top starting pitcher, their everyday shortstop and potentially their power-hitting third baseman.
This is rather deflating.
Pro sports rarely offer smooth sailing for an entire season, especially in a 162-game grind, but the Twins haven’t even packed up their gear in Florida yet and they are already dealing with an extra helping of adversity that will test their depth and mettle.
Good thing the Twins front office made aggressive deals this offseason to upgrade the pitching staff, or recent events would feel more ominous.
News of Jorge Polanco’s 80-game suspension as a result of a failed drug test serves as a reminder that best-laid plans can change in a blink of an eye. Teams must be able to adjust and steady themselves when things go sideways.
This is one of those moments.
The Twins already knew All-Star starter Ervin Santana likely will miss the first month of the season after having surgery on his pitching hand. The team also is waiting to learn if slugger Miguel Sano will be punished by Major League Baseball over an alleged assault on a female photographer. Results of that investigation should be announced any day.
Polanco delivered bad news to his bosses Sunday morning by informing them that he tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug stanozolol, the same substance that triggered Santana’s failed test and 80-game suspension in 2015. Per MLB rules, Polanco also will be ineligible for the postseason if the Twins advance.
This story makes you shake your head in frustration. Polanco expressed remorse while apologizing to the organization, teammates and fans. He also indicated in a statement that he did not intentionally take a banned substance.
Whether he knew what he was doing or not, and whether you believe him or not, it doesn’t matter. The damage is done. His actions hurt the Twins and made their road back to the playoffs that much more challenging.
Claiming ignorance in failed drug tests isn’t an acceptable defense because intent can never be proved. Professional athletes are responsible for whatever they put in their body. This isn’t breaking news. They hear that message constantly.
Polanco made a mistake, intentional or not, and will pay a steep price, as should any player caught with PEDs in his system. The Twins are being punished too, because they will be without a young player who showed tremendous growth at a vital position the second half of last season.
This isn’t a sky-is-falling development, but it’s also not just a minor inconvenience. The Twins are a better team with Polanco than without him. Same thing with Santana on the mound. So now they have to mitigate their absences.
Other players must fill in gaps, specifically Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza as a tag-team combination at shortstop. The front office strengthened the starting rotation and bullpen with offseason additions, which should help cover for Santana’s absence.
If MLB punishes Sano with a suspension, the Twins would open the season without the starting left side of their infield, not exactly a preferred script in a season of such promise.
Dealing with adversity often becomes the truest measure of whether a team succeeds or fails in any season. In best cases, setbacks galvanize a team and create openings for unexpected contributions.
The Vikings provided a perfect example this season. They lost quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Dalvin Cook to knee injuries in a span of two weeks and still advanced to the NFC Championship Game. The picture initially looked bleak until Case Keenum caught fire and the team got on a roll.
The Twins still have a playoff-caliber team with pitching, defense and hitting combined. And they proved to be a plucky bunch in smashing woeful expectations last season.
Their road is tougher now though, no question. Losing good players for extended time puts pressure on everyone else to perform to their norm, or above it.
Polanco’s suspension is a major disappointment, both for himself and the team. The Twins already have faced a few biting curveballs and the season hasn’t even started.