Miguel Sano likely won’t be back in the Twins lineup any time soon as he recovers from a hamstring strain that was classified as “moderate” by team officials, though any hamstring injury seems significant.
“It’s not going to be a 15-day ordeal,” General Manager Terry Ryan acknowledged late last week.
When he does return from the disabled list, Sano should have a new position.
The Sano-to-right-field experiment has been an abject failure, and it’s not fair to anyone — Sano or his pitchers — to keep trotting him out to a position that he’s not equipped to play.
Why risk Sano’s hamstrings and health and potentially sacrifice his production as a hitter by sticking with a plan that simply has not worked and hasn’t shown meaningful signs of improving?
Sano is the Twins’ most important player. His absence in the lineup creates a void. But he remains a liability in right field, an eyesore on the outfield defense.
Sano can play third base, first base or designated hitter. He’s not an outfielder.
Every Sano misplay in right field is greeted by social media guffaws and punchlines. He’s an easy target because he looks so clueless and helpless as line drives approach his vicinity.
Criticism, though, should be directed at those who insisted on this gamble, namely Ryan and manager Paul Molitor.
Ripping Sano for being a terrible right fielder is to assign blame in the wrong place.
Understanding that Sano needs a new position should be an easy conversation. Solving the logjam of a strange roster construction requires hard choices. The best option would be to trade third baseman Trevor Plouffe, move Sano back to third and give Max Kepler an extended audition in right field.
Sure, those moves would weaken the infield defense because Plouffe is better than Sano at manning third base. But unloading Plouffe would allow Sano to return to his natural position and save everyone more embarrassment from this personnel mistake.
Admittedly, this argument stands in contrast to one I made last fall when I suggested the Twins should not trade Plouffe. That theory was based on Plouffe’s respectable 2015 season, his defensive improvement in recent years and an erroneous assumption that the Twins were primed to contend for a playoff spot this season.
#TotalSystemFailure changed everything.
The arrival of Byung Ho Park further complicated a messy situation.
Initially, I viewed Sano’s move to right field with an open mind. I considered it worth a shot. With Plouffe at third and the signing of Park essentially taking the DH role out of play for Sano, options were limited at that point.
The picture has changed.
Sano’s defense has been worse than feared. He plays right field like contestants competing in a dizzy-bat race.
At 16-40, the Twins began the week tied with the Atlanta Braves for the worst record in baseball. The only thing they are contending for is the No. 1 draft pick in 2017.
The organization’s financial commitment to land Park removes the possibility of moving Sano to full-time DH again. Whether you agreed with Park’s signing or not, the Twins must show patience now in allowing him time and opportunity to develop as a power hitter.
Joe Mauer is not leaving first base so cancel that idea.
That leaves Plouffe, who turns 30 on June 15 and remains under team control contractually through next season.
Plouffe has grown and developed into a solid third baseman and respected leader in the clubhouse, but it’s hard to view him as part of the team’s long-term future.
Granted, his trade value has plummeted, given he has produced only three home runs and 12 RBI this season while also dealing with injuries.
The Twins wouldn’t be trading under optimal conditions and probably couldn’t fetch a desirable haul in return. Plouffe has had a disappointing season so far, just like almost everyone else on the roster.
But sending Sano back to right field once he recovers is foolish.
Ryan has some tough decisions on his hands. Speaking of which, how is he going to get the bat of top prospect Jorge Polanco in the lineup with Brian Dozier ahead of him at second base?