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Twins exploring extensions with pre-arb players

March 9, 2018

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- One of the benefits of the Twins having a young cost-controlled core is they have no players under contract beyond the 2019 season. But that could change, as the Twins are in the exploratory stages of contract extensions with pre-arbitration players.Center fielder Byron Buxton has already

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- One of the benefits of the Twins having a young cost-controlled core is they have no players under contract beyond the 2019 season. But that could change, as the Twins are in the exploratory stages of contract extensions with pre-arbitration players.
Center fielder Byron Buxton has already been approached about a possible extension, while the Twins could look to do the same with third baseman Miguel Sano, right fielder Max Kepler, right-hander Jose Berrios, left fielder Eddie Rosario or shortstop Jorge Polanco. Buxton, Sano and Rosario are eligible for arbitration next year but aren't eligible to be free agents until 2022, while Kepler, Polanco and Berrios are arbitration-eligible in '20 and will be free agents in '23.
The Twins, of course, could simply go year to year with each player in arbitration, but an extension can be attractive for both sides. It gives the player a guaranteed long-term contract and gives the club a fixed salary without worrying about arbitration raises, as Josh Donaldson set the record this year at $23 million in his final year of eligibility. Teams also often sign players to long-term extensions that push back free agency by a few years in exchange for the financial security the deal brings.
"This is the time we're thinking about it and when we explore those kinds of conversation," Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said. "This is when a lot of agents come through camps. But nothing is imminent."
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Here's a deeper look at all six candidates and how much an extension would make sense for each player and the Twins:
Byron Buxton
2017 stats: .253/.314/.413, 16 homers, 14 doubles, six triples, 51 RBIs, 69 runs, 29 stolen bases in 140 games.
The skinny: Buxton remains the most likely of this group to sign an extension, as the Twins would love to lock up the 24-year-old given his almost unlimited potential, and he has mutual interest. Buxton had his breakout season last year, emerging as baseball's top defensive player and the fastest in the game, per Statcast™. He's yet to put it together over a full season offensively, which the Twins could use as leverage, but if he continues to hit like he did in the second half of last season, he's an MVP candidate.
Miguel Sano
2017 stats: .264/.352/.507, 28 homers, 15 doubles, two triples, 77 RBIs, 75 runs in 114 games.
The skinny: Sano has immense power and moves surprisingly well for his size at third base. But he's been injury prone, never playing more than 116 games, and weight has been an issue, which could eventually move him to first base. The 24-year-old also needs to cut down on his strikeouts, but when he's healthy he's among the game's biggest power threats. It could make sense to sign him to an extension now, as if he stays healthy and has a breakout season, it will only cost the club more.
Eddie Rosario
2017 stats: .290/.328/.507, 27 homers, 33 doubles, two triples, 78 RBIs, 79 runs, nine stolen bases in 151 games.
The skinny: Rosario, 26, is coming off his best season, as he became more selective at the plate, leading to a better on-base percentage, a lower strikeout percentage and better pitches to hit. His defense wasn't rated as strong by advanced metrics, but he moves well and has a plus arm. He doesn't have the upside of Sano or Buxton, so the Twins could be better suited to go year to year with Rosario.
Max Kepler
2017 stats: .243/.312/.425, 19 homers, 32 doubles, two triples, 69 RBIs, 67 runs and six stolen bases in 147 games.
The skinny: Kepler, 25, has yet to have that breakout season offensively, as his numbers have been roughly league average the last two years. But he has the track record and the frame to put up better numbers. If the Twins believe there's more in his bat and is on the verge of figuring it out offensively, it could also make sense to extend him now before he gets more expensive.
Jorge Polanco
2017 stats: .256/.313/.410, 13 homers, 30 doubles, three triples, 74 RBIs, 60 runs and 13 stolen bases in 133 games.
The skinny: Polanco is coming off an interesting season that saw him get benched in July because of his struggles, only to finish on a tear while batting third in place of Sano. Polanco proved he can stick at short defensively, although he's not a plus-defender there. The 24-year-old still has enough to prove that going to year to year makes sense. The Twins also have several highly regarded shortstops in their system such as Nick Gordon, Wander Javier and Royce Lewis.
Jose Berrios
2017 stats: 14-8, 3.89 ERA, 139 strikeouts, 48 walks, 15 homers allowed in 145 2/3 innings.
The skinny: Berrios bounced back from his rough rookie season to show why he was such a highly regarded pitching prospect. He has the work ethic, mentality and stuff to be a frontline starter, although he lacks prototypical size. His career trajectory seems to be on the upswing, so exploring an extension could be a wise move.

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter **@RhettBollinger** and **Facebook**.