Twins Daily Roundtable: Extension Candidates
I’m hesitant to commit long term to pitcher, but Jose Berrios looks like an exception. Here’s why:
The Time Is Right
Next offseason he’ll be in the sweetest of sweet spots for an extension, between his second and third year of service time. At that point he still has one year of making close to minimum wage, so if he has some arm problems, they’re on him. For that kind of player, especially a pitcher, a big chunk of guaranteed money can make a lot of sense.
Berrios relatively early start to his career works in both Berrios’ and the Twins’ favor for a long-term extension. He’ll become a free agent after the 2022 season, but he’ll only be 28 years old when he hits the free agent market. If he agrees to a deal that buys out a year of free agency or two, he can still hit the free agent market in his prime as a 29 or 30-year-old
But you know that. He should be the top priority this offseason for an extension.
Before the season started, I suggested that signing Byron Buxton to a contract extension ought to be the front office's top priority. Right now, that take admittedly looks... not good. But I'm not backing away. In fact, Buxton's tumultuous start to the season only decreases his leverage while increasing that of the Twins. Existing questions about his ability to stay healthy and produce at the plate are only magnified, so his desire to attain long-term security ought to be heightened.
Despite his tribulations and constant regressions, I remain a strong believer in Buxton's game-changing talent. I'm confident he'll pull it all together and blossom into an MVP-caliber player. If the Twins take action now, they could score a discount on some of his best years. And if he continues on the path he's currently on? Well, they'll have much bigger concerns than overpaying him in salary.
Can I say Royce Lewis? OK, that may be a bit premature.
There are so many good extension candidates, but I’m going to go with the most urgent one to address. No, not Brian Dozier. The player I think the Twins should be working hardest to extend right now is Eduardo Escobar.
Like Dozier, Escobar is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. Unlike Dozier, however, Eduado has proven he can be trusted at multiple positions. That creates a ton of flexibility. If Dozier leaves, no problem, Esky can play second. Not convinced Miguel Sano can stick at third? No problem, put Esky there. Think Nick Gordon may need to shift to second base? That’s OK, Esky can handle himself at shortstop.
The Twins have no shortage of younger players they’ll certainly be interested in keeping around long term, but time is on the team’s side with the majority of those guys. It would be a shame to see Escobar in another team’s jersey next year.
Multiple players could fit into the category of extension worthy. Young players like Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano, and Jose Berrios are all still in their arbitration years. Veteran players like Brian Dozier, Eduardo Escobar, and Joe Mauer will all be free agents at season’s end.
For veteran players, I believe Dozier and Escobar test the free agent market. I doubt either will be back in a Twins uniform next season. Mauer’s reoccurring concussion issues put his future plans in doubt. I don’t think he goes to another team but I don’t know if he will continue playing after this season.
For the young core, I don’t trust Sano and Buxton to stay healthy at this point. Rosario is in the midst of a career year so it might not be optimal to sign him right now. That leaves Kepler and Berrios on my list of extension candidates.
Pitching has always been a sticking point for the Twins. I try to buy out the remaining arbitration years from Berrios and add on some of his free agent years. Even if he is never a true “ace,” he can provide value at the top of the rotation.
The thing that makes this question really difficult is that the player that's playing the best is likely to be the guy that most fans would say they should try hardest to extend. That guy, right now, is Eddie Rosario. The problem is that when a player is playing the best baseball of his career, you're bound to have to pay a premium to get that player to extend. So I wouldn't work hard - or at all - to extend Rosario. Ask me again the off-season, when Rosario is going into his first arbitration year and his one-year value is somewhat established by previous agreements around the league.
Max Kepler would be a better player to approach as he's heading into a Super 2 year. But that means there're four more off-seasons before free agency and it might be too early.
The player who would probably get my current vote is Kyle Gibson. One year left of arbitration before free agency, likely to be part of the "rebuild", getting Gibson signed to a two- to three-year deal would give the Twins some cost certainty and not at a huge cost. The risk to committing money to a pitcher should be partially reduced by the fact that even if Gibson regresses badly, he could still be serviceable in the bullpen. Of course, that's worse case scenario. Best case is you're saving a few hundred thousand on a solid piece of the rotation. Likely scenario is you're getting a mid-rotation guy and you know exactly what it's going to cost you.
As much as I like thinking about potential extensions, I'm at a point where I'm just curious to see who makes it through the purge in July if things don't start to get a lot better.
At the beginning of this past offseason, I suggested long-term deals for a whole bunch of Twins players:
Byron Buxton - 7 years, $76.5 Million
Miguel Sano - 6 years, $66 Million (with option to make it 7 years, $86 million)
Jose Berrios - 7 years, $46 Million (with option to make it 8 years, $60 million)
Eddie Rosario - 5 years, $28.5 Million (with 2 options that could make it 7 years, $54 million)
Max Kepler - 7 years, $48 Million (with option to make it 8 years, $61 million)
Brian Dozier - 4 years, $65 Million (with an option to make it 5 years, $73 million)
Eduardo Escobar - 2 years, $9.5 Million( with an option to make it 3 years, $13.5 million)
Admittedly, six months later, the offer to Escobar looks a bit silly. He should get much more than that. Negotiating with Eddie Rosario right now would likely end up in a bad deal for the Twins because Rosario is so hot at the plate right now. It is possible that maybe a Buxton deal or a Dozier deal could be more realistic.
As I look at that list, I have zero interest in working on a long-term deal with Sano at this point. But I'd have interest in each of the others. Priority should be Buxton, Berrios and Kepler, and then Rosario if he ever cools down.
OK, I’m kidding. But not completely.
If they are as convinced he’s going to be as good as the rest of us think he is, it might not be the dumbest move they’ve ever made to get him locked up for a long time right now. And given that his agent is Scott Boras, they may HAVE to sign extend him right now if they want to have any hope of getting him signed long term, because you know that once he’s even at AA, Boras will want him to just play year-to-year until he’s a free agent.
Otherwise, though, I’d probably have to suggest getting Jose Berrios locked up ahead of his peers.
Before the season started, I would have suggested Byron Buxton, but I’m starting to get concerned about whether he’ll ever stay healthy long enough in one stretch to become the hitter we all felt he could eventually become.
I have similar, if not greater, concerns about Miguel Sano’s long term viability.
Given the challenges the Twins have had finding and keeping a legitimate top-of-the-rotation arm, they probably should try to extend Berrios right now. Sure, there’s no guarantee that he’ll become a true “ace” (however you choose to define that term), but that’s probably where I’d put my money first, at this point.
With their young offensive core, there have been so many challenges between injuries and suspensions. For me, its Jose Berrios by a mile. The Twins haven't had a potential tandem like Berrios and Romero since Santana and Liriano. Berrios is taking steps forward in 2018. He's improved his K/9 from 8.6 to 8.9, reduced his BB/9 from just under 3.0 to 1.7 and is on track to have a fWAR of 4.2 in 2018, that's borderline all-star level. He's currently 24th among pitchers in MLB with an fWAR of 1.4 (Kyle Gibson is 22nd!).
On top of all of this, Berrios has developed his curveball into one of the better versions of this pitch in baseball. He has an unrelenting thirst to maximize his talent, and just turned 24. The Twins should lock up Berrios ASAP; he can lead their rotation for the next 6-8 years.
I think that despite his lackluster performance this year, Byron Buxton is still the guy the Twins should be working the hardest to sign to an extension right now.
His upside is going away the greatest of any player on the Twins, and when healthy he probably still has the highest floor of any Twins player on the roster given what he can do in the outfield and on the base paths.
Buxton’s skill set is another factor that plays into it. Speed is unquestionably his greatest strength, and he should remain one of the fastest players in baseball until around his early 30s.
As if right now Buxton is eligible to become a free agent right after his age 27 season. This means he will be a very attractive asset on the open market (assuming he doesn’t keep hitting below the Mendoza Line).
If the Twins can eat up a couple of Buxton’s free agent years with an extension, I think it will pay huge dividends down the road.
This is a tricky question because I think there's more talented players ahead of the guy I believe the Twins should work to retain. Brian Dozier is going to hit the open market, and Minnesota's effort should begin and end with a qualifying offer.
Joe Mauer makes sense to be brought back on a one or two year deal if he's healthy, but the brain injury coming back into play could jeopardize that and force him to walk away. Eduardo Escobar isn't going to set the world on fire, but I think we've seen what he brings to the club as a utility guy. Some team may be willing to overpay for that, but if there's a reasonable deal to be made there, that's where I'd look first if I was Derek Falvey and Thad Levine.
Three household names will hit free agency heading into the 2019 season: Joe Mauer, Brian Dozier, and Eduardo Escobar. These are your options as I don’t think Jose Berrios or any of the Twins other young talent are saying yes to a deal at this point, so I wouldn’t be working hard on one.
Many would like Mauer to play for the Twins his entire career, and for as long as they’ll have him I think that will be the case. So, I don’t try too hard here either.
Brian Dozier has been a superstar at his position for three years now and is a veteran leader in the clubhouse. He also can only play second base and his heirs apparent are already at AAA (Nick Gordon) or on the suspended list (Jorge Polanco).
But I’d work the hardest on Eduardo Escobar even without those notes considered. He’s among the best utility players in the game and has thrived when thrown into a starting role. This year he leads all 2B, SS, and 3B in doubles, continuing his blistering finish to the 2017 season. He’s also a veteran presence and extremely likeable, so he’s my pick.
If you missed any of the previous roundtable discussions, here are the links:
Romero’s Rotation Spot
Top Prospect Timelines
Minnesota’s All-Star Selection
- Cory Engelhardt, dbminn, nclahammer and 1 other like this