Dobnak Extension Brings Long-term Stability to Twins Rotation
At first blush, Dobnak's new contract seems absurdly team-friendly. The Twins are locking up a proven young pitcher, with a 3.12 ERA through 75 MLB innings, to a five-year deal guaranteeing him less money than Michael Pineda or J.A. Happ will earn this year alone.
With three club option years on the back end, this deal gives Minnesota plenty of flexibility down the line. The ability to buy Dobnak's would-be free agent seasons at bargain prices will be useful if he merely stays the course as a groundball-inducing fourth starter, and extremely valuable if he takes a step forward to No. 2/3 status. (Say, if this much-ballyhooed new slider proves legit.)
The value upside in Dobnak's contract is monumental. If the Twins activate all three options they'll control him for the next eight years for around $30 million, which is less than the Astros are paying Justin Verlander NOT to pitch in 2021 ($33 million).
And if Dobnak's amazing ascent, from undrafted indy-ball pitcher and Uber driver to certified MLB starter, ultimately ends up being a flash in the pan? There's simply no risk.
If the Twins need to cut bait at any point, the $9 million they'll pay Dobnak is trivial for them, life-changing for him.
That last part helps explain why a deal like this can even come to fruition. It's certainly not the first time we've seen teams use their leverage over a young pitcher with limited service time to secure this sort of affordable long-term stability. In fact, Cleveland's front office was quite savvy in this regard while Derek Falvey was assistant GM.
In 2015, Cleveland signed Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco – both a long way from free agency – to lengthy extensions with multiple team options. One year earlier, Chris Archer signed a five-year contract with Rocco Baldelli's Rays, despite having made just 27 career major-league starts. Archer's deal, like Kluber's and Carrasco's, included club options on two free agent years.
Compared to those contracts, Dobnak's includes significantly less money, both in terms of guarantees and max payout. It also gives Minnesota a longer window of control than any of the other examples, with options extending through Dobnak's age-33 season in 2028.
That makes sense. Dobnak lacks the big-league bona fides of Kluber and Carrasco when they signed, or the top-prospect luster of Archer when he did. The implications of Dobnak's background in this decision are apparent from the outside – given where he was at a few short years ago, it's gotta be hard to pass up $9 million in guaranteed money, especially when the "worst case scenario" means you pitch really well and earn $30+ million while staying in the same place for the next eight years.
The Twins, for their part, will happily take the stability in exchange for a modest financial commitment. Prior to extending Dobnak, Minnesota had no starters (sans prospects and fringe rotation options like Lewis Thorpe and Devin Smeltzer) under control beyond 2023. The graphic below show just how much his extension changes that picture.
The Twins will have plenty of flexibility in building their rotation going forward. Dobnak is now firmly entrenched as a sturdy building block to serve as their bedrock.
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