The last time Major League Baseball held an All-Star Game, Jorge Polanco was the American League starting shortstop.
On Tuesday, he became an ex-shortstop.
Andrelton Simmons, a four-time Gold Glove winner at the position, agreed to a one-year, $10.5 million contract with the Twins, according to a source with knowledge of the transaction, an addition that likely pushes Polanco to second base and Luis Arraez into a utility role.
Simmons, a 31-year-old native of Curacao, reached the major leagues with Atlanta in 2012 on the strength of his elite defense, and he has only added to that reputation over four seasons with the Braves and five more with the Angels. His strong arm, amazing range and clever instincts have created a résumé of breathtaking plays that figures to tighten a subpar Twins infield defense.
So does the move of Polanco, whose arm strength and accuracy long ago convinced some scouts that he would wind up at second. Polanco is sure-handed but figures to benefit from the move to a position with a shorter throw.
The shuffle also allows the Twins to replace utility man Marwin Gonzalez, who is a free agent, with a younger and more dangerous offensive player in Arraez, who has batted .331 with a .819 OPS in his two seasons in Minnesota.
In addition to second base, Arraez has played third, shortstop and left field in the majors, and he could allow manager Rocco Baldelli to continue his practice of regular rest for his entire roster, a habit that kept Gonzalez in the lineup for 78% of games during his two seasons with the Twins despite having no defined position.
Simmons' defense is so well-regarded, he has received MVP votes three times during his career. It also prompted the Braves to sign him to a seven-year, $58 million contract after only two big-league seasons, a deal that was to pay him $15 million last summer before expiring.
At the plate, Simmons is far less accomplished, but he's not an automatic out, either. He has hit above .250 in each of the past six seasons and has reached double digits in home runs three times. And in an era of rampant strikeouts, has shown an ability to control the strike zone, never striking out more than 67 times in a season.
The 6-2, 195-pound Simmons has a career batting average of .269 with a .317 on-base percentage and a .379 slugging percentage. He has 67 home runs in 4,280 career plate appearances.
He has mostly been durable, too, reaching 500 plate appearances five times in his career. In each of the past two seasons, however, severe left ankle sprains, both suffered trying to beat out infield hits at first base, have sidelined him. Simmons sat out 59 games in 2019 and 30 last summer, perhaps impacting his market as a free agent. When the Angels fell out of playoff contention in the 2020 season's final week, Simmons, who batted .297 with a 702 OPS, opted out of the final five games.
By committing to only one season, the Twins get the benefit of seeing how Simmons' defense impacts their pitching staff while also keeping them flexible for the eventual arrival of top prospect Royce Lewis, who could reach Class AAA this summer. It also allows them to shift Polanco and Arraez to new roles without adding pressure to a rookie shortstop.
Simmons will be the third free agent signed to a major league contract by the Twins this winter, after the addition of reliever Hansel Robles, another former Angels player, in December, and ex-Yankees lefthander J.A. Happ last week. Simmons' impending signing became public Tuesday shortly after that of Toronto's agreement with former Oakland shortstop Marcus Semien, believed to be another Twins target, so it's possible that they simply pivoted once Semien signed elsewhere.
The addition of Simmons gives the Twins a $46.8 million infield, easily the most expensive in their history. Third baseman Josh Donaldson is the team's highest-paid player at $23 million this season, and Miguel Sano will earn $11 million at first base. Polanco's contract calls for a salary of $4.3 million in 2021.
It also brings the Twins' payroll commitments to roughly $91 million for 15 players, or about $98 million for a full 26-man roster, with another $5-8 million in incentives likely to be earned by righthander Kenta Maeda.
While that remains well below the $135 million the Twins were scheduled to pay if a full season had been played in 2020, it's also clear the team still intends to sign another handful of free agents, a process that could last until after the scheduled start of spring training in mid-February. Designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who has expressed a desire to return for a third season, remains a Twins target.