The Minnesota Twins have lost their starting shortstop less than two weeks before the start of the 2018 regular season.
On Sunday, Major League Baseball announced Jorge Polanco has been suspended 80 games after testing positive for Stanozolol, a common performance-enhancing drug. The suspension begins Opening Day, and, if the upstart Twins qualify for the postseason, Polanco will not be eligible to play.
The Twins issued the following statement Sunday, after Polanco's suspension was announced:
"We were disappointed to learn of the suspension of Jorge Polanco for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. 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 released a statement claiming he did not knowingly take a banned substance:
"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 trainer in the Dominican Republic and consented to take was a combination 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."
Polanco, 24, settled in as Minnesota's full-time shortstop last season, hitting .256/.313/.410 with 30 doubles and 13 home runs in 133 games. He was especially good in the second half, hitting .293/.359/.511 with 10 home runs in 63 games after the All-Star break. Polanco's switch-hitting bat was going to help balance the club's lefty heavy lineup.
The Twins signed veteran shortstop Erick Aybar to a minor league contract a few weeks ago, and given how long it takes to go through the appeals process for a PED suspension, it is entirely possible the club signed Aybar knowing Polanco's suspension is coming. Aybar is 8 for 27 (.296) so far this spring.
Other internal shortstop candidates include utility men Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza, and journeyman Gregorio Petit. Top prospect Nick Gordon is a shortstop, though he's yet to play above Double-A, and many expect him to settle in at second base long-term anyway. It is doubtful the Twins would rush Gordon to the big leagues to cover for Polanco.
The free-agent market doesn't offer much help at the moment -- Stephen Drew and former Twin J.J. Hardy are the only unsigned free agent shortstops -- and it's a little early in the season to find quality help on the trade market, so it seems likely the Twins will start the season with Aybar at shortstop.
Polanco is the second Twins player to be suspended 80 games for PEDs within the last three years. Right-hander Ervin Santana tested positive for Stanozolol in April 2015 and missed the start of the season.