Breaking Down the Jorge Polanco Trade

Mariners/Twins pulled off a big trade; who will benefit the most?

On January 30th, the Seattle Mariners acquired infielder Jorge Polanco from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for RHP Anthony DeSclafani, RHP Justin Topa, and prospects OF Gabriel Gonzalez and RHP Darren Bowen.

On the surface, this looks like an excellent trade. The Twins have an excess of young infield talent and strengthen their rotation depth, bullpen, and farm system. The Mariners acquire a talented hitter in Polanco in exchange for some of their depth, primarily on the pitching side.

Which team won the trade? Did both teams simply get better? Let’s take a look at each team’s return.


Mariners Return


The Mariners got the big name, acquiring former All-Star second baseman Jorge Polanco. After posting a 111 OPS+ for the Twins from 2014-2023, the 30-year-old enters 2024 coming off yet another solid season, with a 115 wRC+ in only 80 games due to a few injuries throughout the season.

Polanco slashed .255/.335/.454 in 2023, totaling 1.5 fWAR. As offensive production can be hard to find for second basemen, Polanco’s production was massively important to the Twins lineup and will continue to be for the Mariners in 2024. Polanco had a few changes to his stat line in 2023 as well. While his 115 wRC+ was identical to the season prior, his strikeout rate and swinging-strike rate increased. In turn, however, his exit velocity on flyballs, barrel rate, and home-run-to-fly-ball rate all increased.

This would indicate Polanco’s heightened focus on power in 2023.

Polanco has always had a unique skill set at the plate, making his success easy to project. His exit velocity numbers are solid, and his average launch angle is elite, averaging 21.1 degrees in 2023. Accompanied by a low pop-up% and excellent line-drive%, Polanco has the perfect batted ball profile for a switch hitter. After an uptick in his exit velocity numbers in 2023, his batted ball “luck” increased as well. If these exit velocities were to be sustained, his increased slugging numbers should be as well.

Defensively, Polanco is below average at second base. While he has been moved around the infield throughout his career, he found a place as the Twins’ second baseman from late 2021 onwards. As a second baseman, however, Polanco’s production is quite rare.

wRC+ Rankings from 2021-2023 among Second Basemen (min 500 PA)

Jose Altuve 149
Gleyber Torres 126
Jorge Polanco 122
Marcus Semien 121
Andrés Giménez 121

Polanco’s consistently above-average production in a position that rarely sees that highlights how much of an impact he can make, regardless of defense. In 280 games at second base in his career, Polanco has accumulated -16 OAA and 2 DRS, with -5 and 1 in 2023, respectively. While below average, Polanco’s defense shouldn’t be enough of a liability to remove him from the Mariners’ starting infield composition.

Polanco is an impact player regardless of his team, as his above-average offense at a scarce position is quite valuable. The Mariners enter 2024 as a team with a lot to prove, and Polanco’s addition greatly improves their offensive potential.


Twins Return


RHP Anthony DeSclafani was the player with the most MLB experience acquired by the Mariners, coming off a 2023 season with a 4.88 ERA, 4.35 FIP, and a 1.254 WHIP over 99.2 innings. Entering his age-34 season, DeSclafani likely enters spring training as the 5th starter but could be displaced by young starter Louie Varland.

DeSclafani has a unique approach, throwing a slider 45% of the time while generating a mediocre 13.6% swinging-strike rate. Its usage jumped from 28% the year prior, as he dropped his cutter and lowered his curveball usage. DeSclafani likely won’t have a resurgent 2024 campaign, but his consistently league-average production could provide stability to a young Twins rotation as the season progresses.

RHP Justin Topa was another big piece in the Twins’ return. A solid reliever for the Mariners, Topa had a 2.65 ERA, 3.15 FIP, and three saves in the 2023 season, which was his first full year in the majors despite it being his age-32 season.

Topa’s best ability is to generate weak ground balls, which he did consistently while limiting walks and allowing just four home runs over 69.0 innings. Topa fits nicely into a very solid Twins bullpen, and will likely continue seeing high-leverage innings throughout the 2024 season.

One of the two prospects acquired by the Twins was OF Gabriel Gonzalez, a 20-year-old righty who finished the 2023 minor-league season in High-A ball. Gonzalez had an elite 148 wRC+ in Low-A ball, yet posted an 83 wRC+ in 43 games after a jump to High-A. At only 20 years old, Gonzalez has room to improve but has already shown the ability to succeed in the lower levels of the minor leagues.

Gonzalez also fills a large hole in the future of the Twins’ offense. As a right-handed outfielder, Gonzalez adds some variety to the Twins’ young, lefty-heavy outfield.

Another prospect acquired was RHP Darren Bowen, a 23-year-old starter who played his first professional season in A ball in 2023. Bowen tossed 55.2 IP, to the tune of a 3.88 ERA and 4.07 FIP, with fairly average walk and strikeout rates.

Gonzalez and Bowen are ranked as the Twins’s #4 and #27 prospects, per MLB Pipeline.


Projections – Who Won the Trade?


2024 Projected fWAR Totals (per Steamer and ZiPS)

Jorge Polanco (Mariners) Anthony DeSclafani (Twins) Justin Topa (Twins)
Steamer 2.5 1.0 0.3
ZiPS 1.5 0.9 0.0

Aside from the two prospects acquired by the Twins, the Mariners are expected to gain more fWAR than the Twins via this trade in 2024. However, with the two prospects a few years from the Majors, there’s a good chance the Twins will benefit the most.

Value-wise, Polanco fills the biggest hole for either team. In 2023, the Mariners collectively generated -0.8 bWAR from second basemen. With Polanco, production from such a weak position should increase dramatically.

The Twins now have an opportunity to start Edouard Julien at second base consistently, his natural position in the minors. Along with a strengthened pitching staff, the Twins also benefitted greatly from the exchange.

This trade just about checks the box of a “win-win,” as both teams fixed big problems in their composition while setting themselves up for a competitive 2024 season.


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