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MLB.com report on instructional league prospects

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In case you haven't seen it, mlb.com has published an article on the prospects at instructional league camp and their progress.   ht...

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Nelson Cruz wants 2 years

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MLB Sees Local TV And Streaming Viewership Up Over 4% For...

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Re-Load vs. Re-Tool vs. Re-Build for 2021

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The Twins certainly have options this winter now that the core has been here long enough to make some tough calls. Which is the best rout...


Rapid Fire Hot Takes on the Kepler-Polanco Extensions, and Stagnant Relief Pitcher Market

Posted by Sabir Aden , 18 February 2019 · 2,177 views

kepler polanco front office extentions payroll
Rapid Fire Hot Takes on the Kepler-Polanco Extensions, and Stagnant Relief Pitcher Market My Theoretical Mindset during the week;
The status quo surrounding the Twins all offseason was their stubbornness and inability to commit to any outside assets (in free agency or on the trade block), yet until recently did the Twins finally break that narrative. But… they were in-house pieces. By committing to two sprightly and talented yet unproven stars, have they overplayed their hand on their future plans?

The Twins right now are waltzing into what I would define as, a free-agency sweet spot. Where every added contributor would stabilize a liability, and boost their win total, which are at such a premium. The roster right now looks to be somewhere around the ballpark (lame pun not intended), to a potential spot in the postseason. Granted if nothing goes wrong (i.e injuries, supensions, curses) we could be staring towards a roster destined to secure a playoff, and readily prepared to be supplemented during the trade deadline. The added emphasis on a win or two or in the Twins case, blown-save-catastrophes-galore might end up sinking the ship when it comes to contention. If last year's bullpen collapses weren’t enough for you, I would say by far the Twins weakest position group lies in the most erratic, fragile and frail baseball clusters in all of baseball; the relievers.

I spoke about this briefly in my last article, but what Keuchel or more importantly in Kimbrel possess is a semblance of stability so unprecedented that the last guy to be a stabilizer for us, is being inducted into our hall of fame. If we focus on Kimbrel in depth, the guy is as rare of a breed your ever going to find in the relief pitching industry. I’m not going to speak about Kimbrel in depth, but what really matters is that they both (Kimbrel and Keuchel) have walked the walks, and might play that kickstarter-trailblazer kinda player to get this steam boat sailing. Somehow the Twins front office has managed to finagle towards a somewhat competitive roster, and despite not committing to any external assets, keeping the books dry of anything, and keeping the payroll at or equal to ≈ 100 million is a remarkable feat, no doubt about it. But is it time for the Twins front office to relent and issue a blockbuster contract? That’s very debatable.

Into the Nitty Gritty with Kepler and Polanco
Here’s a basic 101 on how rookie contracts work:
This rookie contract system is a focal point of the Collective Bargaining agreement and is tweaked and polished constantly, but it goes as follows;

Typically ameuteur hitters agree to a contract with major league clubs coming out of school, or out of the states globally and major league clubs are given a 5 year window on either promoting the player, or releasing him. That promotion would then start the ticking on his 6-7 year free agency departure clock, and would stay with his team through his prime and peak years on a cheap deal, until he would reach free agency (expectedly after he would be years past his best seasons*). During his 3-4 year seasons, the players earns close to nothing on a athletic player scale (I say this because 500k seems like money heaven to me). If the team elects to let the player stick around, when the player hits his 5-7 year season he can contest for a slight raise, provided if both sides agree to a compromise. Until his 7th or 8th year does the player final get his rights to a free departure, and test the market for his free agency rights.
*there are exception to this (Nelson Cruz etc).

We’ve seen this philosophy catch some steam in the present, with several clubs purchasing the rights of players who aren’t “seasoned or proven”, and maybe haven’t even made it to the league in some cases. What this leaves fans to savor is team friendly-contracts sculpted to buyout years of arbitration, for a couple years of free agency. Theoretically, this consumes the prime or peak years from a player, but is it really worth it. Let’s take a look.

*Tabulated according to Spotrac
Screen Shot 2019 02 18 At 12.38.11 PM

For Kepler and Polanco, we’re seeing a hike in annual pay, over the arbitration years that somewhat amount to as what the players would earn in full amount in free agency. Both Kepler and Polanco have received somewhat mildly-risky contracts. Both have underachieved in their time on the major league spectrum, and in Polanco's case been busted for doping with PEDS. These contracts (5yr, 35 mill & 5yr, 25 mill) aren’t going to hinder or cripple the Twins in the future. What I find to be quite interesting is that the Twins have a healthy and expanding prospect pipeline coursing with talent, and yet they still inclined to purchase the underwhelming services of Kepler and Polanco. According to my fortune predictor (oh boy I’m talented fellow, yeet) these are the scenarios I see turning out. When the Twins finally open the window to a championship pursuit, either…
  • Polanco and Kepler are shrewd bargains
  • Or they both continue to lag Twins lineup, and logjam the outfield rotation (with prospects + Cave)
I decided to input Scott Kingery, because I thought his situation with the Phillies is an excellent example of when jumping the gun isn’t as picture perfect as it might seem. His contract is nearly identical in terms with Polanco and Kepler, mainly because they have the same backfire caveats and loopholes in dispatching Kingery once he gets old. Kingery hasn’t developed as rapidly as one would expect his minor league numbers would indicate, and played to the tune of a NEGATIVE W.A.R!!! (-1.5). The Phils thought he would form a dynamite paring with Hoskins and the future skeleton of that team. Instead, Manager Gabe Kapler is juggling at-bats between Maikel Franco and Kingery, who are competing to “win or earn” third base. This just hits me clear in the head as when this doesn’t work as anticipated. Just some added insight….

Both of these scenarios have their pros and cons. You might have to shuffle playing time between the chain of prospects and the fitful likes of Kepler, and/or Polanco. In this case you unload Kepler and/or Polanco for equitable return values, and propel prospects to replace them. Or both Kepler and Polanco emerge as building blocks and thrive, and you yield for a established major league chip, and supplement for an immediate push (hopefully sooner rather than later). The time tables are rough and tweakable, but both the former and latter are good problems to have.

In my mind the extinction of the concept for paying someone for what they’re worth is truly baffling me. It strikes me as that teams are playing with fire and lottery tickets, and trying to pull a quick on the player/(s). The truth to the matter is they aren’t premising the agreement toward constructive proof but rather on whim, Lady Luck, and canniness. Even with the comprehensive and elaborate analytics (which I’m all for, frankly) I don’t think it’s plausible in the right shape of mind to predict someone future who hasn’t set a baseline for what their ascension might be. For all I know, Kepler could go and revert into a complete shell of himself and morph into the eternal spirit of Nick Punto. That might be a little far-fetched, but the guy hasn’t established himself as any kind of consistent regular. He isn’t a ‘proven’ left handed vs left handed hitter (granted he improved from his abysmal marks from a year ago, but there’s a lot more left to be desired). He could turn into a complete sponge against lefty’s, and be relegated to an exclusive platoon role against righties. He’s an admirable right-fielder whose play is fairly consistent, but nothing out-worldly ala The Buck. Could he be in line for a regression? I guess that’s up to him.

Typically young players similar to Kepler and Polanco both experiences growing pains, and excruciatingly painful rough patches, but what usually leaves with people is that semblance of promise and hope that a player instills into a fanbase. Kepler and Polanco are by no means generational cornerstone players, but what Kepler and Polanco possess is that consistency a team as inconsistent as the Twins desperately needs. Every position has been a constantly rotating carousel of prospects, and the Twins decided to shore this up, by agreeing to terms with Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco each on intriguing multi year contract that speak to the mindset of the Falvine Front Office. I guess I’m playing Devil’s Advocate right now, because I’m sputtering trying to unravel their rationale.

IMG 2558

There aren’t many other motives for Kepler &co and Polanco &co not to reject these deal like this. This is guaranteed money your dealing with, and the signals and indicators in this suppressed markets wouldn’t sway them that they would command much more (or any offers at all) in the open market. I wanted to take a closer examination at Kepler’s logic in this, because I find much more faith in Polanco, RF is a much more vital to Target Field, and granted he got the more lucrative contract.

In Kepler’s case, in some ways your betting with yourself; do you believe that Kepler would turn into a monster player and demand a lucrative contract, or do you settle with what in turn is an appealing and secure the offered multi year deal. It’s as playing with fire in the Twins perspective, and in light of him settling you could deconstruct this in either two way:

1. I’m concerned that Kepler would settle with a buy-low contract like this and is satisfied with staying average
2. Or the Twins got an absolute steal of a player.

The downsides and upsides are obviously staring us in the eyes. The guys looks he’s a got plenty of a Major League regular’s tools, but the intangibles are worrisome to me. He looks flustered, and stoic at the plate. His demeanor is “I’m under radar, so don’t notice me”. But he’s got those flashes of phenom and potential like he could rake, on an at bat to at bat basis. He got a great, pretty left handed stroke (if that’s worth anything). During 2018, we saw, provided if he hunkers down and locks in that he could hit lefties and for power. 2018 was the year he exorcised those demons and the knocks of his same handed ineptness, and not to mention he’s an above average right fielder. That’s what scares me locking into a promising yet unproven commodity.

I have hunch that Kepler’s in for a breakout, quasi- bounceback campaign. I conjured up 7 imperative objectives, if Kepler wants to exponentially improve, and turns his contrast into a bargain.
  • Don’t regress
  • Don’t becomes injured (is that harsh?)
  • Rake and Clobber
  • Don’t flail to back-foot breaking ball
  • Keep Smoking the Ball (Guy is getting better over career)
  • Keep hitting lefties,
  • Let development take its course (don’t rush it)
- I literally had this stray though, but what if players get mad at their annual salary and if they’re not getting due compensation, play below their abilities. In this case, does Kepler play to the boundary of his abilities?

Just on a side tangent, I stumbled on something interesting when looking through Kepler’s Numbers…..

IMG 2575

IMG 2572

I recall times last year that Kepler had his extreme cold spells and fits at the plate, and I wanted to see how much of this was a byproduct of bad luck. wOBA is simply a synthesized linear statistic where singles/walks are considered as a the primary building block, and incrementally scales a hit as for it’s due result. Expected wOBA is as self-explanatory as it sounds, and just express the quality of contact and how it yields to on field results. Their are some flaws to this that might apply to Kepler (for being left handed), but if a player scorches a frozen rope and persists to label it INTO THE SHIFT, xwOBA would flag that as an unlucky hit, even though the entire left side of the infield is just begging for a bunt down the left field line. This is what hinders the stat, and I haven’t found a way to quantify how much this action has tainted Kepler’s stat value. But other than that, the stat has enlightened me with some tell-tale suspicions that Kepler slumps have accentuated because of the fact he is inducing himself into slumps. I added Trout’s statistic because quite honestly, the guy is the poster boy of hitting and is a golden standard benchmark stat. The reason why we don’t see the traditional pronounced periodical slumps in Trout, (IMO) is because Trout has found a way to amplify his stretches of success, and mask the monstrosities of his slumps and skids, which help maintain sparkling wOBA’s. (Or maybe he’s just too good to be bad????)

This is an excellent inherent trait to have, because...
  • It’s a great sign of a confidence booster
  • It reinforces & enhances your overall stat...➡️ (Solid+Amazing=Really Good)
This all might be baloney, but I find it interesting that Kepler’s more distinct patches of droughts tend to follow the Expected wOBA. The thing is, events like this are very common young hitters, (Heck, in real life too). Kepler rides the Hot-Hand like a wave, but when he hits his lows he virtually touches rock bottom. I just find it intriguing that this kinda-gives us a view to Kepler’s psyche during this plate appearances, to my understanding. Is it that Kepler’s gloom and doom approach at the plate is making that his Expected wOBA mimics and dampens his wOBA? That’s the real question…...

I bet my theory will get invalidated, but I think this hints toward some better and consistent productions from Kepler in this upcoming season. Maybe just a little forward thought, the vote of confidence upstairs, in this new contract, encouragement from the staff, and some years under the belt will aid Max in carving-it-up in the Bigs.

But if Kepler gets better (which I’m all inclined to believe), and if his performance does ride along an expected course, Kepler’s 8th and 7th year salaries are at complete bargain bottom prices. I also believe to some minuscule or macroscopic level (or really anything in between), that this instills some motivation into players. Disregarding why people rip players who pale in comparison near nothing to the owners, it’s a vote of confidence from the Front Office. It’s not like them handing contracts is routine kinda thing, and it issues sort of closure or something close after all summer people were calling for their collective heads. I do like these contracts, if that’s what you came to read this for, but still believe (no matter how much the PR department iterates it), where Buxton and Sano go, so do the Twins. I do hope success for all these player because they will take the fall if everything crashes and burns. Both Sano and Buxton in my mind aren’t ever going to have a year of this magnitude to prove doubters and/or the FO they were destined for stardom. To make the postseason I think the Journey runs right square through Buxton and Sano cascades, and to qualify to the playoffs I think it’s unequivocally contingent if Sano and Buxton rise to the occasion.

This all surmises to probably befuddling you more prior to reading my tyrade/spiel but let’s simplify into simpler terms; if Kepler plays at or near a 4-5 WAR per year,(which is roughly fringe all-star level) this contract is a boon for the Twins. It's a bust if Kepler plays to a 1-3 WAR level (because the Twins have plenty of role players to insert). This also applies to some degree with Polanco.

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