There have been many steps, both forward and back, and almost all of them were giant, like he is. He’s been a top prospect (2010-2015), a Tommy John casualty (2014), and an instant success and late season hero (2015). Then he was a cautionary fielding experiment (2016), an All-Star (2017), and an out-of-shape pariah (somehow, also 2017). The drama has played out as a reclamation project (2018) and a breakthrough player (2019). All this, and he’s not yet 27 years old.
So when evaluating his $30 million dollar contract, it is probably unwise to assume any smooth career progression, even if baby steps are what Sano is trying to emphasize for himself. “Just be professional. Take care of my routine; keep doing my routine. Take care of what I eat, what I put in my body,” lists Sano, in response to how he can stay healthy.
Health is perhaps the biggest risk in the long-term deal the Twins offered. Sano’s major injuries were Tommy John surgery and a foul ball off his shin that resulted in a titanium rod being inserted into his leg. Neither are the usual chronic injuries that worry teams, but the perception remains that the 6’ 4”, 272 pound (listed) frame was at least a partial cause of injuries, and maybe more than a partial cause of slumps. Even last year, a heel injury, suffered in an offseason celebration, caused him to miss the first quarter of the season.
So what could a healthy Sano do over 162 game? Well, last year, he had 34 home runs in 380 AB. “If I play an entire season, I think I can probably double those numbers,” he says. That’s obviously exceedingly optimistic. Fangraph’s STEAMER projections suggest 38 home runs is a more realistic target, but that also factors in a slight step backwards towards the mean.
Slight steps in any direction have not been the norm for Sano. If the doubters are correct and he takes yet another giant step backwards, it will cost the Twins an extra $24M over the next four years, given he would’ve made $6M one way or the other this year. On the other hand, if he takes a giant step forwards, replicating the 923 OPS he posted after June 27th? What then?
Sano seems to have an idea. When asked what he will do with his newfound riches, he smiles and replies “Nah, it’s not a lot. I can get more than that.”
Indeed he can, if the 26-year-old‘s baby steps lead to giant steps in the right direction.