Signing an elite player like Carlos Correa to a six-year contract was a thrill, Derek Falvey said. But the Twins' president of baseball operations realized that perhaps not everyone would agree. So shortly after the transaction became official, he picked up the phone to inform someone of its inescapable fallout: we gave away your position.
Falvey wasn't certain how star-shortstop-in-waiting Royce Lewis would take the news.
"No, wait, that's not really true. I know Royce. I knew how he would react," Falvey said. "Royce's response was, 'This is great. The guy makes us better. He can help us win. That's all I really care about — let's find a way to win.'"
Actually, Lewis is busy finding a way to get healthy again, roughly halfway through his rehabilitation schedule following knee surgery last June. He's still four or five months from being able to train on a baseball diamond again, and probably at least six months from playing in a game.
That's difficult enough for a player whom the Twins once projected might be their everyday player at that pivotal position by now. Two knee reconstructions and a pandemic changed that timeline, and now it's difficult to imagine Correa, to whom the Twins have committed at least $200 million, being displaced anytime in the next half-dozen seasons.
But that doesn't mean Lewis isn't still a big part of the team's future, Falvey said.
"Our focus for Royce is to keep him on the dirt, to find ways to get him back in the infield," Falvey said of Lewis, who will meet with the team's training staff while in Minneapolis this weekend for TwinsFest. "That was our intention prior to signing Carlos, and it hasn't changed since Carlos signed."
Correa himself has suggested that the day will come when his footwork won't be quick enough for shortstop, that his strong arm will be better suited for third base. The Twins are in no hurry to move him, not at age 28 and just two seasons removed from winning a Platinum Glove for his work at the position. But their handling of Lewis will keep that in mind.
"We want to keep shortstop in the mix, because one, Carlos can't play every day. And quite frankly, as Carlos ages, with Royce [five years] younger, is there a world where someday he's playing shortstop and Carlos is playing alongside him? That's possible too," Falvey said. "I can't rule that out. So the more he gets shortstop reps, the better."
The same goes for last year's first-round pick, Brooks Lee, too, Falvey said. Lee is also a shortstop — one who so impressed his new employers, he climbed to Class AA in his first professional season.
By training at shortstop, the most athletically demanding position in the infield, players can more easily move to second or third base, which is the Twins' plan for both of their former first-round picks. Injuries, trades, slumps — positional assignments sort themselves out eventually, Falvey said.
"It doesn't really change this portion of his rehab. He's still in the rebuilding phase. And even when he is on the field, it's going to be straight-ahead ground balls for awhile, not a lot of lateral movement," Falvey said. "So I don't care where he's taking those [grounders], it doesn't matter. And we will build on that as we go.
"Some of that will depend on how the year goes and how his recovery goes. Because if he continues to recover as we expect him to, we can maybe move him around, keep him versatile, and give some thought to how it will align in the future. First, we've got to get him healthy again."
There's some painful irony in that statement, given that Lewis suffered the latest tear in his anterior cruciate ligament during his first and only major-league game as an outfielder. The Twins aren't necessarily discouraged by that bad luck, though.
"I know what transpired last year in the outfield was devastating for all of us. But Royce still feels he can go play there. And there are plenty of people, coaches and scouts who have seen him over the years, who believe that's still by far his best position, tracking down balls in center field," Falvey said. "It just speaks to how athletic he is. He can just bounce around in ways that are unique."