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Should the Twins Follow Atlanta's Approach to Contract Extensions?


The Atlanta Braves won the 2021 World Series and have a chance to be baseball's first back-to-back champion in over 20 years. Atlanta's front office has been aggressive with signing their young core. Is that an approach for Minnesota to consider?

 

Image courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn, USA Today Sports

Baseball organizations tend to follow the trends set by other successful teams. In recent years, the Braves have solidified themselves as a model franchise, and other organizations will look to copy their winning model. The club's ability to sign players to long-term contracts is part of its success. Is this approach something the Twins should consider? 

Earlier this week, the Braves announced they signed rookie starting pitcher Spencer Strider to an extension that buys out his arbitration seasons while giving the team two extra years of control. Michael Harris II, another Braves rookie, also signed an extension earlier this season that followed a similar structure. These aren't the only players the Braves have been able to lock up. 

Besides Strider and Harris, Atlanta has also signed some of their other top players to long-term deals. Matt Olson and Austin Riley signed extensions during the 2022 season. Previously, the Braves had signed Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies to very friendly long-term deals. Atlanta is guaranteeing money to players beyond their arbitration years which has risk, but the Braves are hoping to see the players outperform the value they are paying. 

The Braves and the Twins have different philosophies when creating their rosters. Atlanta has over $150 million in guaranteed money on the books for 2024, with nearly $100 million going out as far as 2028. Minnesota's front office likes to have payroll flexibility and tends to avoid long-term deals. Byron Buxton and Randy Dobnak are the only Twins players with options that extend beyond 2025. During the 2022 season, the Braves' payroll ranked in baseball's top 10, while the Twins ranked slightly below league average at 16th. 

Atlanta's long-term investments come with inherited risk. Players can suffer catastrophic injuries and miss significant playing time. There is also no guarantee that these players will continue to develop at the big-league level. The Braves have already won a World Series, and they hope they can contend for multiple other titles over the next five years. Fans can forget poor play if World Series flags are flying forever. Atlanta can also hope that a few of these players produce at a superstar level to outweigh the dead money on the other contracts. 

For the Twins to follow the Braves' strategy, the right players are needed to make these deals work out in the team's favor. Minnesota signed Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler to team-friendly extensions, and an argument can be made that both contracts worked out in the team's favor. Polanco's contract can max out at $48.25 million, and he has provided the Twins with nearly $80 million in value since 2019. Kepler's deal can be worth just over $42 million, and he has been worth $72.6 million. Those deals have worked out in Minnesota's favor, so who can the team target for extensions?

Health has been the biggest issue for young Twins players, including many of the team's recent top prospects like Alex Kirilloff, Royce Lewis, Matt Canterino, and Trevor Larnach. All these players might be extension candidates if health wasn't a question at the beginning of their big-league careers. Those aren't the only players who are extension candidates following the 2022 season. 

Luis Arraez, Joe Ryan, Jhoan Duran, and Jose Miranda are some younger players the Twins could consider for a long-term extension. Arraez won his first batting title in 2022, and the Twins have him under team control for three more seasons. It will be harder to lock-up Arraez as he gets closer to free agency. Ryan, Duran, and Miranda are pre-arbitration eligible, so they are under team control through the 2027 season. The Twins can try and sign them early to gain extra years of team control. 

Minnesota's current front office likes to clean the team's long-term books, which allows for more flexibility. However, other teams are locking up their young players to help the organization continue to win. Do you think the Twins front office needs to change strategies? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. 


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Interesting article. Three thoughts.  FIrst, the Twins signed Sano to a 3 year 30 million dollar contract as well, so while the term was shorter, he could be added to the list.  His did not work out.  Second, I like the overall idea of signing young players to longer term deals IF we don't hand them out to players with injury histories, Kirilloff for example.  Arraez I love but I wonder if his body will hold up for 5 or 6 years?  With Duran, if he pitches well and is healthy all of next year, he could be a candidate.  The same for Ryan and Miranda.  Finally, Atlanta has a 200 million dollar payroll, so if they make mistakes in signing these contracts, they have 60 million more dollars to work with than the Twins.  Still, I like the concept if it is applied intelligently.

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I'm not in the boat in favor of extensions unless they are an international player w/ ton of potential, sound & who doesn't have Boras as an agent. Otherwise I'd let the clock run out & then evaluate them wether we need to extend them or not.

Extention of Polanco was pretty good, Kepler was OK but Sano & Dobnak didn't turn out. There was the same talk about extending Kiriloff the 1st year he broke MLB, I'm glad we didn't.

 

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I think the major difference between the Twins players and Atlanta is that the Twins players are much older and does it make sense to extend people into their 30's? Arraez will be 29 when he is UFA, Ryan will be 32, assume Duran will be 31, Miranda will be 30 I think?

I might extend Arraez and Miranda but not chance I am with Ryan and Duran.

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9 minutes ago, TwinsDr2021 said:

I think the major difference between the Twins players and Atlanta is that the Twins players are much older and does it make sense to extend people into their 30's? Arraez will be 29 when he is UFA, Ryan will be 32, assume Duran will be 31, Miranda will be 30 I think?

I might extend Arraez and Miranda but not chance I am with Ryan and Duran.

Major difference number 2.... Atlanta's players don't seem to be injured.   Other than Acuna last year, I think most of those players play in baseball games.  

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Atlanta has extended some pretty athletic players. Polanco and Kepler fit the profile and Royce Lewis and Brooks Lee may be reasonable bets. I wouldn't put Arraez, who is a wonderful bat, or Miranda in the same category as Albies, Acuna Jr., Riley, or Harris II. Arraez may be a better bat now but he doesn't fit in the field as smoothly. The idea is worthwhile though. I don't think the Dobnak contract will cause much disruption for the Twins.

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I think the article hit it perfectly, it depends on the player and the situation.  For example, if say Brooks Lee makes team next season, or some other young player around age 21 to 23, that you have high expectations on, then signing a deal into their age 30 to 32 seasons makes sense.  However, if they do not break into league until 24 to 26, there is little need to buy out FA years, and little incentive for player to want to do that too. 

Some times these contracts can backfire for the player or team.  Both have risk.  There have been a few guys signed to these types of deals when they are rookies that do not pan out for teams.  Jon Singleton may be the most famous of these.  He signed a 10 million deal with Houston before he ever played a major league game.  

He played less than a full MLB season, provided negative value and was cut.  The deal had it panned out would have been a 5 year 35 mil deal, but he did get 10.  Now this is not the type of contract we are really talking about, paying more in non arb years to have cost controlled arb years and maybe a year of FA.  Being his 5 year deal would not have even got him through arb years. 

Basically, Houston threw away 10 mil in hopes of not having to pay more than 35mil over 5 year if the player was a superstar.  Pretty big gamble for Houston, great call by player to sign that deal, considering he would not have earned much until year 3 anyways, and unless he was a mega star would not have even earned the 10 in year 4.  

Teams and players are looking to do these earlier deals to control costs and there is nothing wrong with it.  But I do not think every player should be treated this way but with select players. 

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Great article, thanks.  Also great comments.

Agree that Ryan and Duran are two candidates, although I would wait until next offseason.  Same for Miranda, Larnach and Kirilloff.  The one player I would love to see them sign to a five year deal, plus a couple option years, is Arraez.  Come on front office, get it done before Christmas.

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Yes - this is how I think a team like the Twins can succeed.  We need to get better value for our players than their salaries dictate.  Give them life changing money to buy out a few years of FA.  Overpay by a few million in years 3-6 so can underpay them years 7-10.

This does come with injury risks, but as long as hit more than miss is good plan.

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You lock up players that you expect to be part of your core for the foreseeable future

Arraez has an offensive skill set that should age well.  The question of his durability is valid.  If the Twins are comfortable with him at 1B, then he would be a prime candidate for a 4+option contract.

Miranda didn't exactly light the world on fire when he first came up.  His defense is also a question as he could not secure a position through the season.  He needs to show more before locking up years.

Ryan is a "you know what you have" pitcher.  Solid 3 on a good rotation, with flashes of 2.  Probably needs another year, but if there is no arm/health issues, he would be a strong extension candidate that would not require a huge overpay.

RP are always shaky.  Duran's track record in the minors is not great.  I would not consider extending him for at least 1 year, maybe 2.  Make sure this year was not a fluke.

Everyone else has huge question marks that would eliminate them from the conversation for now.  

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The Twins do lock up players like the Braves.  The issue is having someone ready to lock up.  and that reason has been injuries.

Miranda and Arreaz look like great candidates to lock up beyond their FA date. 

Ryan and Duran are on the bubble.  I would wait another year for them and do a shorter 3 or 4 year contract (to give the player some financial stability and avoid the arbitration process) with options to buy out a year or 2 of FA.  There is more than 1 way to extend a player.

Lee would be a good one to consider when he comes up.  

On a smaller budgetary note.  I wouldn't be opposed to a Jax extension similar to the Dobnak extension.  or one that is team friendly that buys out some arbitration years.  I think he will be a super 2 next year.  Jovani Moran is also a low budget extension candidate in my book more so after another season.  

I also think that Dobnak will be back.  since he has the contract and no one will claim him he is the perfect depth piece to add/ subtract from the roster at will as long as he can pitch to a 4.00 or so era.  In other words I don't think this contract will be so underwater at the end of it.  He did seem to pitch better at AAA.  Though I haven't checked his numbers either.  

Jeffers is an interesting case as well.  He could possibly sign a team friendly deal because of injury risks as well.  This would be a low cost extension probably to buy out arbitration years with options to cover a year or two of free agency.

 

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A good concept, but not a new one. I recall when Cleveland took this approach in the late 80's and early 90's. While it didn't pay off in a run of WS appearances or wins, it kept the core of the team together and provided a long run of winning seasons and contention. It can make real sense for both sides, and provides a sort of "insurance" for all parties.

I like the approach and it was smart as well as beneficial for Polanco and Kepler. Not so much of Sano, but if you look at total production, the Twins weren't exactly fleeced. The contract signed with Buxton this past offseason is a similar approach, despite not being in his early 20's and having some injury issues. You're still betting sunk $ cost/value versus what MIGHT BE. 

I don't buy in to the fact that a player reaching the majors at 24-25yo is probably not a great prospect. Right now, he's very likely a year behind due to covid and the lost 2020 season. Secondly, not everyone is a HOF'er or multiple All Star, and said mid-twenties player can still have a very, very good career as a starting player or roster fixture for a good 7-9 years. BUT, a lot of those players won't be FA until they reach about 30yo, so an extension is questionable for a lot of them. But I wouldn't say no to any young player who puts in at least a couple quality seasons and shows real upside. But I would always insist on a couple, healthy, productive seasons before I go long term with them.

The toughest area to figure might be starting pitching. There are arms that break down and are just never the same. But then again, a lot of front line, #1 types and even a lot of proverbial ACES don't achieve that status until their late 20's. By that time, you might be too late for a "mutually friendly" option. 

So overall, yes, I like the idea of locking up my young players as much as possible. It makes good business sense and works for both sides. 

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The Twins don't currently have many players in the talent level of these prospects the Braves are tying up. It's why there's a lot of comments here about "I'd wait another year and make sure they're the real deal." That's kind of the opposite of the point of what the Braves are doing with a number of these guys. The Braves are signing the Acuna, Albies, Harris, Striders of the world to extensions before they're established so they can save some money while trusting in their own development and internal scouting abilities to know they're extending guys who will produce. Waiting until Arraez is into his arb years to be willing to extend him takes away the savings in the FA years you'd buy out because you're not able to say you're paying him millions extra in his pre-arb years.

On a side note, I'm not sure why Olsen is listed in this article. He's not at all the same type of situation as the others. That was just a straight up extension of a soon to be free agent they'd just traded for. They didn't buy out any team control. The Riley situation is more of what people in the comments are asking for. They didn't get him extended until he had a breakout, borderline MVP candidate season last year. And that's why he got 212 mil and not 100 mil like Acuna Jr. 

That's the big difference here. They're locking up young, likely superstars to significantly below market deals because they're willing to pay them 10 million in their pre-arb years in exchange for their free agency years being 10 mil a year cheaper than expected before they've established themselves as superstars. Suggesting the Twins wait until guys are more sure things defeats that purpose and just means you're signing the Riley type deal which isn't nearly as team friendly as the Acuna deal.

But, back to my first sentence, the Twins don't have a bunch of Riley and Acuna's coming up right now. Lewis is the type of guy that would fit that mold, and, to @TwinsDr2021's point, is young enough to make him a candidate for this kind of move. I was a Lewis believer going into this last year and suggested I'd give him the opening day SS job so I understand that my view on him is more extreme than most, but I'd lock him up for 10 years and 100 mil right now. The rest of the guys are either already in their mid-20s so you'd be buying out their decline years anyways, or they're more everyday regulars than all-stars. Maybe Miranda is someone they want to extend? Kirilloff would be if his career weren't in question with the wrist. If Lee debuts next year I'd sign him to 10 years 100 mil as well. Lock him and Lewis up and call the left side of my infield set for a decade.

But beyond those couple guys there's not many that would really be a huge benefit to locking in. Maybe Rodriguez becomes a guy like this in a couple years? The guys that this strategy is really for are the young studs that come up and you want to lock in their entire 20s. Twins need to start graduating guys before they're 25 if they want to start buying out FA years early on.

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5 hours ago, chpettit19 said:

The Twins don't currently have many players in the talent level of these prospects the Braves are tying up. It's why there's a lot of comments here about "I'd wait another year and make sure they're the real deal." That's kind of the opposite of the point of what the Braves are doing with a number of these guys. The Braves are signing the Acuna, Albies, Harris, Striders of the world to extensions before they're established so they can save some money while trusting in their own development and internal scouting abilities to know they're extending guys who will produce. Waiting until Arraez is into his arb years to be willing to extend him takes away the savings in the FA years you'd buy out because you're not able to say you're paying him millions extra in his pre-arb years.

On a side note, I'm not sure why Olsen is listed in this article. He's not at all the same type of situation as the others. That was just a straight up extension of a soon to be free agent they'd just traded for. They didn't buy out any team control. The Riley situation is more of what people in the comments are asking for. They didn't get him extended until he had a breakout, borderline MVP candidate season last year. And that's why he got 212 mil and not 100 mil like Acuna Jr. 

That's the big difference here. They're locking up young, likely superstars to significantly below market deals because they're willing to pay them 10 million in their pre-arb years in exchange for their free agency years being 10 mil a year cheaper than expected before they've established themselves as superstars. Suggesting the Twins wait until guys are more sure things defeats that purpose and just means you're signing the Riley type deal which isn't nearly as team friendly as the Acuna deal.

But, back to my first sentence, the Twins don't have a bunch of Riley and Acuna's coming up right now. Lewis is the type of guy that would fit that mold, and, to @TwinsDr2021's point, is young enough to make him a candidate for this kind of move. I was a Lewis believer going into this last year and suggested I'd give him the opening day SS job so I understand that my view on him is more extreme than most, but I'd lock him up for 10 years and 100 mil right now. The rest of the guys are either already in their mid-20s so you'd be buying out their decline years anyways, or they're more everyday regulars than all-stars. Maybe Miranda is someone they want to extend? Kirilloff would be if his career weren't in question with the wrist. If Lee debuts next year I'd sign him to 10 years 100 mil as well. Lock him and Lewis up and call the left side of my infield set for a decade.

But beyond those couple guys there's not many that would really be a huge benefit to locking in. Maybe Rodriguez becomes a guy like this in a couple years? The guys that this strategy is really for are the young studs that come up and you want to lock in their entire 20s. Twins need to start graduating guys before they're 25 if they want to start buying out FA years early on.

Pretty much everything chpettit19 says here is spot on. It's a great concept and business plan, requires having the talent in the system, identifying the talent early on and moving quickly. Hoping Twins have guys of this caliber in the system, Lewis? Lee? Like Chpettit, I have high hopes for Lewis/Lee combo, could see one or both of those two fitting this kind of profile.

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11 hours ago, tony&rodney said:

 I wouldn't put Arraez, who is a wonderful bat, or Miranda in the same category as Albies, Acuna Jr., Riley, or Harris II. Arraez may be a better bat now but he doesn't fit in the field as smoothly. 

Arraez may not be in the same category as Albies, Acuna, et al, but he is in a highly desirable category of his own.  He won the dang batting title and he's a fighter at the plate with some truly remarkable at bats.  He did just fine at first base.  He worked hard last off season to get stronger.   His work ethic is outstanding and he's well liked by his teammates.   He's not a conventional ball player, but he's a special player - in the best sense.  

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1 minute ago, Kummel said:

Arraez may not be in the same category as Albies, Acuna, et al, but he is in a highly desirable category of his own.  He won the dang batting title and he's a fighter at the plate with some truly remarkable at bats.  He did just fine at first base.  He worked hard last off season to get stronger.   His work ethic is outstanding and he's well liked by his teammates.   He's not a conventional ball player, but he's a special player.   

The difference is that the guys Atlanta have signed long term are more multi-dimensional players than Arraez. I hope you understand that this is not a diss on Luis but just an explanation of the type of player that is handed a long term contract early. Arraez is excellent but he is different than the Atlanta guys. It remains to be seen whether the Twins would offer a large long term deal to Arraez, but it doesn't seem real obvious that they would at this point.

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The fact that the Twins signed Dobnak to a contract extension when he had accomplished very little was head scratcher and gives me pause. But extending Arraez, Miranda, Duran and Ryan does make sense given their current value. Marketing will be built around Arraez, given that Buxton can only play half a season.  

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On 10/13/2022 at 1:25 PM, chpettit19 said:

The Twins don't currently have many players in the talent level of these prospects the Braves are tying up. 

Spot on. First things first - 

(and the primary reason I would have looked long and hard at the Braves' organization six years ago...)

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It seems one of the extensions from the Braves this year followed the Twins model of extensions by front loading it.   So I do think the Twins should front load several extensions to help level out future payrolls.  Miranda, Arreaz, Ajax, Moran and Duran and possibly Ryan.  They don’t all have to be so long to buy out FA years but long enough and low cost enough to be a likely benefit in future payrolls.

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I don't think the difference in success between the Twins and the Braves has much to do with the length of contracts for everyday players.

In the 2021 postseason, Atlanta got 27.2 IP from Max Fried with a 1.19 WHIP and three quality starts. Ian Anderson had an 0.94 WHIP and 1.59 ERA in 17 IP. Tyler Matzek in 13 games had an 0.89 WHIP and 1.72 ERA. And so on.

This year, Fried had 21 QS in 30 starts, a 1.01 WHIP, a 2.48 ERA with a 5.9 WAR.

Charlie Morton had 205 K's in 172 IP.  Spencer Strider in 131.2 IP had a 0.99 WHIP, good enough for a WAR of 3.7.

I know counting wins isn't considered fashionable anymore, but Kyle Wright had a 21-5 record as a starter, 1.16 WHIP, good enough for a 3.6 WAR.

I could spout more stats, and I don't think the Twins' injury issues can be over-stated, but I do think the main difference between the Braves now contending to be the first repeat world series champs this century (I'm old school, and count 2000 as the last year of the 20th century) is they have a legit front end of the rotation. Plus a solid bullpen (e.g., 4th best ERA in MLB.)

No knock on Ryan and Gray. I like 'em both. But we need a horse at the front of the rotation.  At this point, pondering the lengths of everyday player contracts is just re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. 

If the Twins had an ace in front of Gray and Ryan, and could stay healthy, we could have fans of other teams looking at the Twins and wishing they could duplicate Minnesota's success, rather than looking at Atlanta and wishing we had what they have.

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22 hours ago, tony&rodney said:

The difference is that the guys Atlanta have signed long term are more multi-dimensional players than Arraez. I hope you understand that this is not a diss on Luis but just an explanation of the type of player that is handed a long term contract early. Arraez is excellent but he is different than the Atlanta guys. It remains to be seen whether the Twins would offer a large long term deal to Arraez, but it doesn't seem real obvious that they would at this point.

That's very fair.  

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On 10/13/2022 at 9:07 AM, RJA said:

Interesting article. Three thoughts.  FIrst, the Twins signed Sano to a 3 year 30 million dollar contract as well, so while the term was shorter, he could be added to the list.  His did not work out.  Second, I like the overall idea of signing young players to longer term deals IF we don't hand them out to players with injury histories, Kirilloff for example.  Arraez I love but I wonder if his body will hold up for 5 or 6 years?  With Duran, if he pitches well and is healthy all of next year, he could be a candidate.  The same for Ryan and Miranda.  Finally, Atlanta has a 200 million dollar payroll, so if they make mistakes in signing these contracts, they have 60 million more dollars to work with than the Twins.  Still, I like the concept if it is applied intelligently.

Who gave Sano a 30 million deal? How in the world could that have been justified at the time, given his track record for being out of shape and for getting into questionable circumstances? Anywho, I believe the author is on to something. Sign the young, good, proven, trouble- free players to early contracts and most will work out for the team's benefit. I like it.

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2 hours ago, SkyBlueWaters said:

I don't think the difference in success between the Twins and the Braves has much to do with the length of contracts for everyday players.

In the 2021 postseason, Atlanta got 27.2 IP from Max Fried with a 1.19 WHIP and three quality starts. Ian Anderson had an 0.94 WHIP and 1.59 ERA in 17 IP. Tyler Matzek in 13 games had an 0.89 WHIP and 1.72 ERA. And so on.

This year, Fried had 21 QS in 30 starts, a 1.01 WHIP, a 2.48 ERA with a 5.9 WAR.

Charlie Morton had 205 K's in 172 IP.  Spencer Strider in 131.2 IP had a 0.99 WHIP, good enough for a WAR of 3.7.

I know counting wins isn't considered fashionable anymore, but Kyle Wright had a 21-5 record as a starter, 1.16 WHIP, good enough for a 3.6 WAR.

I could spout more stats, and I don't think the Twins' injury issues can be over-stated, but I do think the main difference between the Braves now contending to be the first repeat world series champs this century (I'm old school, and count 2000 as the last year of the 20th century) is they have a legit front end of the rotation. Plus a solid bullpen (e.g., 4th best ERA in MLB.)

No knock on Ryan and Gray. I like 'em both. But we need a horse at the front of the rotation.  At this point, pondering the lengths of everyday player contracts is just re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. 

If the Twins had an ace in front of Gray and Ryan, and could stay healthy, we could have fans of other teams looking at the Twins and wishing they could duplicate Minnesota's success, rather than looking at Atlanta and wishing we had what they have.

Good point. Very good point.

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10 hours ago, Otaknam said:

The fact that the Twins signed Dobnak to a contract extension when he had accomplished very little was head scratcher and gives me pause. But extending Arraez, Miranda, Duran and Ryan does make sense given their current value. Marketing will be built around Arraez, given that Buxton can only play half a season.  

Agreed.

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10 hours ago, Otaknam said:

The fact that the Twins signed Dobnak to a contract extension when he had accomplished very little was head scratcher and gives me pause. But extending Arraez, Miranda, Duran and Ryan does make sense given their current value. Marketing will be built around Arraez, given that Buxton can only play half a season.  

I'm still scratching my head over that move.

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On 10/13/2022 at 6:45 PM, tony&rodney said:

The difference is that the guys Atlanta have signed long term are more multi-dimensional players than Arraez. I hope you understand that this is not a diss on Luis but just an explanation of the type of player that is handed a long term contract early. Arraez is excellent but he is different than the Atlanta guys. It remains to be seen whether the Twins would offer a large long term deal to Arraez, but it doesn't seem real obvious that they would at this point.

Also I would say that we've just seen Arraez's ceiling this year: good avg, sprays the ball around, light pop, not much value on defense. At some point by his early 30's, he'll be the same kind of player (especially with Rod Carew encouraging him to be like Rod Carew), but slower.

 

If they can buy out a couple years of his free agency at relatively low cost, fine. But I don't think it's an imperative. Just as well if they wait and see how the next few years plays out. If they want to extend him before the 2025 season, I don't think the wait is likely to hurt them. He might even decline by then, or maybe they'll be thinking of him as a trade chip, anyway.

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