Twins commit to core, extend Kepler & Polanco

Longest-tenured members of team began journey together as roommates 10 years ago

February 15th, 2019

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Ten years ago, as 16-year-old prospects, and began their Twins tenure together as roommates at the club's facilities in Fort Myers.
"This dude didn't speak a lick of English when I walked into the room," Kepler said on Friday, pointing to Polanco, seated to his right.
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Kepler, from Germany, and Polanco, from the Dominican Republic, still found ways to communicate at first via gesturing and -- any teenager's favorite -- food. Kepler's mother, Kathy, liked to cook Italian food, and Polanco was understandably a fan.
On Friday, their decade-long journey together reached its next climax at a press conference in which the Twins announced five-year extensions for both players, which keeps them in Twins uniforms until at least age 30. Kepler is guaranteed $35 million with a club option for a sixth year. Polanco is guaranteed $25.75 million, with a vesting option for a sixth year and a club option for a seventh.
"When you think back to 2009 from today, it's only fitting that we're sitting here today in Fort Myers at our facility here to announce these two together," chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said.

Along with members of Polanco's family, both players' agents and team staff in the audience, the back four rows of Champions Hall at the Twins' Fort Myers complex were packed with Twins prospects -- several of them international signings -- as Minnesota affirmed its commitment to two important elements of its homegrown core.
"What we see up here, in our estimation, is the wave of the now for the Minnesota Twins," general manager Thad Levine said. "What we see in the audience is the wave of the future for the Minnesota Twins. If what we accomplish today is taking one step closer to marrying the best of today with the best of the prospect capital we have in the audience today for the future, we think we've done something pretty special for the franchise for the years to come."
Falvey and Levine have made no secret of their desire to secure the futures of their prominent core players. Both Kepler and Polanco have had challenges in their journeys to this point, and though both could be giving up additional future earnings via the salary arbitration process, neither expressed much concern about the money.

Kepler, for example, had to play three years at the Rookie level, and he said he experienced periods of doubt when he considered going to college to secure a more guaranteed future. He indicated that he was happy to play for the league-minimum salary -- drawing a feigned look of exasperation from Levine, seated beside him.
"Money, to me, I'm very thankful for what we received, but it really isn't in the forefront," Kepler said. "My career -- what I put in work-wise, ethic-wise, getting better as a person, on and off the field -- is most important to me. Money, yes, I'm thankful for. My family is super thankful for that, too. But I'm really not too focused on that."

A year ago, Polanco was having a much tougher conversation with team leadership after MLB issued an 80-game suspension when the shortstop tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance, coming off a career year that culminated in an appearance in the American League Wild Card Game against the Yankees.
But Polanco made the most of his time away from the team, working with strength and conditioning coordinator Ian Kadish, Minor League infield coach Sam Perlozzo and then-Fort Myers manager Ramon Borrego on baseball activities, while also serving as a mentor to the large Minor League group at the Twins' facilities. He returned to the Twins and posted the strongest slash line of his career to finish the season.
"He worked every day. He was an impact on every one of our young players," Falvey said. "He stayed engaged with his workouts. He knew exactly what he was supposed to do. He didn't miss a beat.
"I think this is a second chance for him, and he put in the work this offseason. When we had the conversation this offseason, he knew he wanted to be here long term. So it's a very different conversation than 12 months ago, but I think it reflects the work he's put in over the last year."

The Twins' recent history has been defined by leading figures that have stuck around to anchor the organization -- and come to mind. With their pair of moves on Friday, the team renewed its commitment to a pair of the longest-tenured members of the organization -- and the club still might not be done.
"To know that those two guys are going to be around for a long period of time, I think everyone's going to sleep really well at night," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "They're two wonderful people. Two great people. Teammates love them."