Long-Term Deals Highlight Key Truths
Image courtesy of © Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY SportsThe Twins Indeed Still Have Some Money To Spend This Offsesason
Kepler’s deal varied from most typical long-term deals in that he got paid quite a bit more than he would make in year three. So does Polanco’s. This makes sense, given that we’ve estimated that the Twins entered the week $25-$30M below last year’s payroll level and should have some money that they can still spend. It’s good to see that is the case, and that the Twins recognized that greasing the wheels with $6M of that makes a lot of sense.
The Twins Will Commit To Competency (At The Right Price)
Usually long-term deals target budding superstars. But while both Kepler and Polanco could be described as “good”, Kepler’s batting average has stalled out and Polanco has questions about his defense, his steroid suspension and his power potential. That didn’t stop the Twins, who instead structured contracts whose core included four guaranteed years at a salary already consistent with their value, but didn’t increase much. In both cases that meant paying them more than they were worth this year, paying them about what they would have made next year, and locking them into their present value in 2021 and 2022.
The Twins Expect At Least A Little Improvement
The fifth year in both contracts gives a raise to both players, but would still represent a major bargain if both players really establish themselves. The real payoff appears if the players take a big step forward. If they do, the Twins will have two of Kepler’s free agent years under their control (one guaranteed) and three of Polanco’s (one guaranteed).
And if they don’t, that fifth year will sting a little. Not much, but a little. The Twins are betting each will take at least a step forward to justify that, and giving them four years to figure it out.
The Twins Are Still Cognizant Of Spending, But Also Understand Their Margin Of Error
If either deal goes south, the Twins are able to spread the impact to a limited amount per year. The only year where they could really hurt the team is 2023, which should also be when both players are in the prime of their careers. Otherwise, the money at risk is really just $4-5M for Polanco and $6-7M for Kepler, neither of which is likely to significantly impact the ability to improve the team over a given offseason. While being mindful of payroll, they understand they can make a $4M to $6M mistake without crippling an offseason. They just don’t want to make a mistake bigger than that.
Minor League Depth May Pay Some Unanticipated Dividends
I don’t want to overstate the impact of this, but it’s awfully interesting that the Twins top two prospects (and two of the best in the minors) happen to be a left-handed hitting outfielder and a shortstop. And that both are probably going to spending at least part of this year in AA, just a step or two from the majors.
I’m not saying that Kepler and Polanco were hearing footsteps, but their agents might have been. I firmly believe both were safe for 2019 and 2020, but if we’re not talking about OF Alex Kirilloff and SS Royce Lewis stepping into major league roles in 2021, something has gone seriously wrong.
With these deals done, how they all fit into the picture is the Twins problem. For the record, it’s a nice problem to have, and I have no concerns about anyone blocking anyone. These contracts look very trade-friendly, or perhaps one of their young studs bring back a key superstar for a playoff run. But whatever the solution, Kepler and Polanco now know that someone will be handing them checks from 2021-2023.
There is a balance in these deals that has a certain elegance. In general, teams have been less eager to sign players who they don’t anticipate to be superstars. The Polanco and Kepler deals represent a more nuanced approach: lock up steady players who are young and have upside, without committing so much in any given year that future improvement is at risk. It’s a balanced strategy reflecting a balanced philosophy that we’ve seen repeatedly in the Falvey-Levine era. We’ll see if it’s a successful one.
- BigSkyTwinsFan, brvama, mikelink45 and 8 others like this