FORT MYERS, FLA. – There were a couple of Star Tribune reporters in the Twins clubhouse early on Sunday morning and we wound up in a conversation with coach Gene Glynn, initially about the NCAA basketball tournament and then about the fielding problems experienced by shortstop Jorge Polanco in exhibition play this spring.
Glynn’s basketball interest can be traced to his high school days in Waseca, where he was named as Minnesota’s first Mr. Basketball in 1975. As for Polanco, Glynn is the Twins’ infield coach, and received credit for helping Jorge to overcome shaky fielding in the early portion of exhibition play in 2017.
Glynn had many sessions hitting ground balls to Polanco. Glynn is also a confidence booster by nature, and the optimistic messages had to help Polanco to believe in himself as a shortstop.
“It looks like you might need a couple of extensive ground-ball sessions with Polanco,’’ I said to Glynn on Sunday.
Glynn shrugged it off. “Jorge’s going to be fine,’’ he said. “He’s dropping his arm slot a little and that’s causing some throws in the dirt. He went through that down here last year and then found consistency with his throws.
“He’s getting to the ball. He made a play behind second base the other night that was spectacular.''
This was 8 a.m. in Fort Myers. And it’s being offered to confirm this:
The Twins were not aware prior to mid-morning Sunday that Major League Baseball was ready to issue an 80-game suspension to Polanco for testing positive for the steroid stanozolol.
That’s the same steroid that got Ervin Santana at the end of spring training in 2015, putting him under suspension for the first 80 games of his four-year contract.
Polanco and Santana are both from the Dominican Republic, and stanozolol — a steroid that has been around since the early 1960s — has been the culprit in most suspensions for ballplayers from the island.
The Twins have been waiting for MLB to issue a verdict on its investigation into the accusation that Miguel Sano grabbed a volunteer photographer at a promotional appearance in 2015.
Sano and Polanco grew up a mile apart in the Dominican and were signed at the same time by the Twins. They are opposite in personalities: Sano as the extrovert, Polanco as more of an introvert.
The Twins signed Erick Aybar, a 12-year big-league veteran, on Feb. 24. This was puzzling, since they already had a pair of excellent backup infielders in veterans Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza.
My theory was the Twins wanted to look at Aybar, in the event Sano would receive a suspension. That would put Escobar in the lineup at third base, and would leave Adrianza as the lone backup infielder with experience. Aybar would give the Twins another one, if he showed that he could be helpful.
Then came MLB’s announcement late on Sunday afternoon: Polanco was suspended for 80 games for a positive steroid test.
Did this have anything to do with signing Aybar? Nope.
Sunday’s early-morning conversation with Glynn, and also what I’m told of the reaction of Twins officials when they were informed later on Sunday morning, says this was every bit the surprise gut punch that was Santana’s suspension three years earlier — for Terry Ryan and the previous baseball administration.
What we might have is an explanation for Polanco’s shoddy play in the field in recent games. The player and the players association are informed of the positive test earlier in the process. Polanco was playing for a while knowing this was coming.
This statement was released in Polanco’s name after the MLB announcement:
"Today, I have regretfully accepted my 80-game suspension for testing positive for stanozolol. 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.
“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. Unfortunately, what I was given was not that supplement and I take full responsibility for what is in my body.’’
So, the Twins have lost their shortstop and they still await word on the result of the Sano investigation, and that positive spin from the arrival of two starting pitchers and a slugger in the past month …
It hasn’t taken a 180-degree turn, but it’s certainly 90 degrees in the wrong direction, and with the season opener now 10 days away.