FORT MYERS, FLA. – Jorge Polanco’s strong second half of last season was one reason why the Twins made the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
A return to the playoffs will have to be done without him — for about half of the upcoming season. And forget about him participating if the Twins do play in October.
Polanco, 24, was suspended 80 games for violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy. He tested positive for the drug stanozolol, a performance-enhancing substance. If that sounds familiar, there’s a good reason why. Righthander Ervin Santana served the same suspension for testing positive for the same substance in 2015, only a few months after he signed with the Twins as their most expensive free agent ever.
Polanco will experience the same fate. He won’t be eligible to play until June 30 against the Cubs in Chicago. And he is ineligible for postseason play.
Polanco was not available for comment Sunday — he will meet with reporters Monday — but released a statement through the Major League Baseball Players Association.
“Today, I have regretfully accepted my 80-game suspension for testing positive for stanozolol,” Polanco said. “To be clear, I did not intentionally consume this steroid. I now know, however, that my intention alone is not a good enough excuse and I will pay the price for my error in judgment.”
Stanozolol became well-known during the 1988 Seoul Olympics, when Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson tested positive for it and was stripped of his medals. Santana’s positive test occurred during a period in which a handful of players were caught using stanozolol, one of 74 performance-enhancing drugs on MLB’s list of banned substances. At least two minor leaguers have tested positive for the substance since the beginning of 2018.
In his statement, Polanco argued that he was unaware of how the substance got into his system, similar to Santana’s defense.
“The substance that I requested from my athletic trainer in the Dominican Republic and consented to take was a combination of vitamin B12 and an iron supplement, something that is not unusual or illegal for professional athletes to take,” Polanco said. “Unfortunately, what I was given was not that supplement, and I take full responsibility for what is in my body.
“Every bone in my body wants to appeal this suspension but out of respect for Derek Falvey, Thad Levine, Paul Molitor, my coaches, my teammates, and the entire Twins organization, I have decided to withdraw my request to appeal and will begin serving my suspension immediately. My hope is that through this extremely disappointing situation other players will learn from my mistake.”
Polanco played a key role in the Twins postseason run last year, batting .318 with an impressive .913 on base-plus-slugging percentage over the final 54 games of the regular season. He finished the season with a .256 batting average, 13 home runs and 74 RBI. Polanco looks to be coming into his own as a player, especially as a hitter. And he is part of a group of developing Twins hitters who looked to be part of a productive offense this season.
“We were disappointed to learn of the suspension of Jorge Polanco for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program,” the Twins said in a released statement. “We fully support Major League Baseball’s policy and its efforts to eliminate performance enhancing substances from our game. Per the protocol outlined in the Joint Drug Program, the Minnesota Twins will not comment further on this matter.”
Polanco’s first game back would be June 30 at Wrigley Field. He will miss eight games against defending AL Central Division champion Cleveland, all six games of the season series against the Angels, four home games against the Yankees and two games against the Astros, the defending World Series champions. He will be allowed to begin a minor league assignment as he nears reinstatement.
Eduardo Escobar started at shortstop for the Twins on Sunday, going 0-for-3. He looms as a potential replacement for Polanco, as does utilityman Ehire Adrianza, who might be more suited for the position.
Top prospect Nick Gordon batted .409 in 13 games during camp. The Twins cut him Sunday despite learning of the suspension during the day, but he moves up the list of options, especially if there is an injury or if someone underperforms.
Veteran Erick Aybar also is in camp, trying to stick around as a utility player. Polanco’s suspension increases Aybar’s chances of landing on the Opening Day roster. But it’s wise to remember another reason Aybar could make the team:
The Twins await word from MLB on any possible suspension of third baseman Miguel Sano based on allegations that he assaulted local photographer Betsy Bissen following a public appearance at a memorabilia store at the Ridgedale Mall in Minnetonka in October of 2015. Bissen shared her story on social media in December, prompting the league to investigate. A decision could come before Opening Day.
So there’s a chance the Twins will be without the left side of their projected starting infield March 29 when they open the season at Baltimore while Polanco and, possibly, Sano, serve suspensions.
“I hope that those who have believed in me, those within the Twins organization, my teammates, and the fans in Minnesota and in the Dominican Republic will accept my sincere apology,” Polanco said in the statement. “I will continue to train hard every day in the hopes of being able to contribute to winning baseball games with the Twins later this year.”