CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Colorado Rockies signed Nolan Arenado to a long-term contract extension worth a reported $260 million, keeping the superstar third baseman in Denver and eliminating the chance of departure at season’s end. It’s a big deal for the club and for the industry, and it has an impact on the Twins, too.
As Minnesota sat out the Bryce Harper and Manny Machado Sweepstakes this winter, there was some thought that perhaps the Twins had their eyes down the road at other future free agents. Arenado would have been at the top of everyone’s list next offseason. Now, he’s committed to earn more than a quarter-billion dollars playing his home games in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains.
The Twins wouldn’t have been the only team interested in his services as a free agent. But you can bet that they would have been interested. I guess we can file it in the category of We’ll Never Know For Sure. Any number of teams with deeper pockets might have gone over the top and sign him, and I guess we won’t get to learn that counter-factual. (An infield of Nolan Arenado-Royce Lewis-Jorge Polanco-Miguel Sano could have been fun to think about.)
But something about Thad Levine’s answer to a young fan’s question at TwinsFest had me thinking about the biggest names in the game, and when they’ll become available for hire. A young boy asked the Twins’ GM if they’d even thought about signing Bryce or Manny. It was a good question.
“To answer your question very bluntly, yes. Absolutely we’ve thought about that,” he said. “I think that’s part of our job, is to evaluate the top end of every market … and try to determine at what price points would we recommend to Dave [St. Peter] and Jim [Pohlad] that we think it’s time for us to push chips in and really be aggressive.
“When we’re talking about players of that magnitude, both production as well as cost … I think we’re going to be able to play on players like that but realistically maybe one at a time,” Levine said.
“So we’ve got to make sure we get the ‘who’ right. Because we’re not going to sign one of those guys this year and then come to [ownership] two years from now and say it’s time to sign the next one and the next one and the next one. So we want to be sure we’re very, very smart about the ‘who’ and equally attentive to the ‘when.’”
Let’s just do some guessing and say that if certain things break the right way for the Twins this year, then they’ll be in position to be in the competitive all-in mode as early as end-of-2019 or more likely 2020.
So, who are the free agents that make the most sense to target for a World-Series-Or-Bust proposition? Now that Machado and Arenado are crossed off that imaginary list, Anthony Rendon looms as a big target for anyone looking to make a significant splash. (We’ll ignore Harper for these purposes, too.) There are a few other impact names who could be free agents as early as next winter.
2020: Anthony Rendon (30 years old)… Gerrit Cole (29) … Chris Sale (31) … Xander Bogaerts (27) … J.D. Martinez (32) .. Paul Goldschmidt (32) … Justin Verlander (37)… Stephen Strasburg (31) … Josh Donaldson (34) … Madison Bumgarner (30).
Note: These are possible free agents. Because in some cases they would require an opt-out to actually hit the market. No sure thing these days. And the names continue to be fascinating as you stretch your mind’s gaze beyond next winter.
2021: Mike Trout (29) … Mookie Betts (28) … Trevor Bauer (30) … J.T. Realmuto 29 …. Andrelton Simmons (31) … Jacob deGrom (33).
The 2021 class is just kind of silly and it’s fun to think about for practically every club. Except maybe the Padres. The Padres have had their fun.
Here are a few other names that are fun to dream about from future classes.
2022: Francisco Lindor (28) …Noah Syndegaard (29) … Kris Bryant (30) … Freddie Freeman (32) … Sal Perez (32).
As we move closer to this year, the pitching wish list will probably look different to aging, injury, development and all that. So I’m guessing by then we’ll have some interesting pitching names that go beyond pitchers like Zack Greinke (38) … Clayton Kershaw (34) … Max Scherzer (37) …. Corey Kluber (36) … and Chris Archer (33).
2023: Christian Yelich (31) … Alex Bregman (29) … Luis Severino (29) … Aaron Nola (30) … Aaron Judge (31) … Andrew Benintendi (28) … Mike Clevinger (32).
Of course, this is all just for fun. If teams around the game start taking the route that the Rockies just exercised, then you’ll never see the superstars leave the towns in which they were drafted. There will still be some guys who want out. If there are fewer and fewer of them, you’d expect that price to go up even further as the laws of supply and demand play out.
So cross Arenado off your future wish list, Twins fans. And let it also serve as a lesson that future shopping lists don’t always develop the way we might expect today.