Wetmore’s 5 thoughts: Would any more extensions make sense for the Twins?

There’s a wave of contract extensions sweeping Major League Baseball and the Twins were on the front end of it earlier this spring. The team locked up shortstop Jorge Polanco and outfielder Max Kepler before the year began, and now two pieces that they believe are important to their core are secured for a minimum of 5 years.

They weren’t the first team to employ this strategy. Those two long-term deals were among the 25 across baseball inked after spring training began. We’re seeing a slew of contract extensions signed by young players, in many cases extending a contract’s control into what would have been free agency. Maybe it’s because these younger players – like Eloy Jiménez, Ronald Acuña Jr., Xander Bogaerts and Jacob deGrom — are deciding that MLB free agency ain’t what it used to be. Maybe there’s another reason.

Now I wonder if the Twins will jump back in to these contract talks. Not because they’re off to a nice start and are proving that This Will Work. But for no other reason than other teams are setting the template for what an extension could look like in April 2019.

In March, I was told that the Twins weren’t actively pursuing any further extensions after Polanco and Kepler signed on. I also know that the team would already have had those discussions with a number of different players by that point.

“We do have a desire to do that,” a Twins official said before spring training. “We would like nothing more than to extend some of the current guys, so when the next wave [of young talent] is here, we still have the best of today with the best of tomorrow.”

This column presents 5 thoughts on who we might consider “the best of today.” Who are the extension candidates left on the Twins?

1. Kyle Gibson, 5+ years service time

To do a deal like this you’d have to believe in Kyle Gibson’s turnaround. (I do.) You’d also have to believe that the turnaround for a 31-year-old former first-round pick is worth paying a fixed salary. That’s a less certain bet, in my book.

Gibson is a fastball-slider-changeup righty who last season posted career bests in ERA (3.62), strikeout rate (21.7%) and swinging-and-miss rate (11.5%), and innings (196 2/3). Looks good. But what are teams paying these days for non-elite pitchers who’ve celebrated at least 30 birthdays?

Among comparable contract extensions, there aren’t many who match Gibson’s profile. Sonny Gray was traded to the Reds and instantly agreed to an extension worth $30.5 million over 3 years (with 1 option). He’s two years younger than Gibson and had a peak that made him a more widely known commodity, and perhaps more desirable in the eyes of some evaluators. After that you’d just be looking at comparable free agency contracts, like the 3 years/$30 million for Lance Lynn in Texas. (Only 9 free agent starting pitchers got more than $10 million guaranteed this winter, and one notable man named Dallas Keuchel remains unsigned.) Remember, Gibson’s side would be choosing between an extension now or free agency six months from now.

A few other contract extensions, signed since 2014, to think about here:

Homer Bailey (Reds), 6 years, $105 million in 2014
Rick Porcello (Red sox), 4 years, $82.5 million in 2015
Josh Tomlin (Indians), 2 years, $5.5 million in 2016
Danny Duffy (Royals), 5 years, $65 million in 2017

2. Eddie Rosario, 3+ years of service time

Nobody in Rosario’s boat signed up for a new deal this winter. It’s really pretty rare to see a good young position player at the halfway point between his rookie year and free agency sign on for a long-term extension. Michael Brantley did so in 2014 with the Indians (4 years, $25 million), and Ryan Braun did it way back in April of 2011 (5 years, $105 million).

Locally, we think quite highly of Eddie Rosario. He’s shown to be a good outfielder, a good hitter, a fun personality. He’s also seemed like a willing learner and he worked to improve his free-swinging ways to become a more dangerous and complete hitter. Heck, he was knocking on the door of his first All-Star bid last summer, and he had a case to be named to the American League team. And at 27 years old, you could still consider him young. I think the Twins have a good player on their hands. How much is left to improve? Will he become a great player? Would you risk big raises and potentially losing him in free agency in 3 years if you don’t get a deal done?

If you shudder to think of that possibility…

Would you do for Rosario what the Reds did for Eugenio Suarez last spring? 7 years, $66 million with an option.
Or the Marlins for Dee Gordon 3 winters ago? 5 years, $50 million and an option year.
Or how about the Mariners before the 2015 season, when they locked up Kyle Seager for 7 years, $100 million, with added components that could make the deal 8 years and $120 million?

3. J.O. Berríos, 2+ years service time

The ace of the Twins staff, in my opinion, should prove to the Twins and the to the league that he is the guy you saw on opening day. Berríos dazzled an overmatched Indians lineup to set the club’s new opening day record for strikeouts from a starting pitcher. Last year was his best season to date and it earned him his first All-Star nod, although surely not his last.

What seems like the current upper bound on the top-shelf starting pitching market was set only weeks ago. If Berríos proves he belongs in this category — and the Twins are willing to bet long-term on arms — then the young righty can march into the meeting room with a few recent contracts in his briefcase and confidently ask for tens of millions of dollars.

Aaron Nola 3+ year service time, 4 years/$45 million (1 option) with the Phillies
Luis Severino 2+ years service time, 4years /$40 million (1 option) with the Yankees
Blake Snell 2+, 4 years/$49.426 million with the Rays
German Marquez 2+, 5 years/$43 million (1 option) with the Rockies

We’ll exclude recent extensions for guys like Kyle Hendricks, Jacob deGrom and Chris Sale, because they all were further along in their career at the time that they put pen to paper with their current employers.

4. Taylor Rogers 2+ years service time

The best kept secret in A.L. relievers belonged to the Twins last year. And Rogers’ emergence last season is one reason the Twins were quietly optimistic about their bullpen entering the new year, despite the conspicuous lack of a splash signing.

Last season in 72 appearances the skinny lefty had a 2.63 ERA and a 28.9% strikeout rate. But those season-long stats do tend to ignore the fact that he didn’t give up an earned run after July 28, and his addition of a slider to his arsenal made him a force to be reckoned out of the bullpen in Minnesota. Rogers faced 89 hitters from July 30 until the end of the season, and he struck out 32.6% of them, walked 3 of them (3.4%) and surrendered 2 extra-base hits to go along with his 0.00 ERA. He won’t repeat that clean sheet this season but the point I’m trying to make stands. Rogers went from a good reliever to a great reliever, and in my book he’s an extension candidate.

Rogers signed on for just more than $1.5 million this season in his first year of arbitration, and he won’t qualify for free agency until 2023. So, maybe if you’re the Twins you’re content to just continue to give the guy big raises in arbitration if he lives up to your lofty projections. Maybe that suits Rogers, too. Or maybe the two sides would like to come together on a big-but-not-too-big number that makes sense for both sides over the next few years.

Since reliever extensions are relatively rare, we’ve got a small pool from which to select comps.

Jose Leclerc 2+ service time, 3 years /$14.175 (2 options) with the Rangers in March
Raisel Iglesias 3+ service time, 3 years/$24.125 with the Reds over the winter

Those are top-flight relievers that are relatively early in their career.

5. Miguel Sanó or Byron Buxton?

From my outsider’s chair, I wouldn’t view either of these candidates as very likely to get a deal done right now. Better to revisit in the winter, in my opinion.

There’s a public perception right now that the Twins still need to answer an important question regarding their third baseman. Can you trust Sanó? Fair or unfair, that’s the external perception. With Buxton, is now really the right time to approach him with this? So soon after last September, when the organization asked him to go home rather than rejoin the team in September, and thereby kept Buxton from accruing another year of service time in 2018? And two weeks into the following season would be the best time to talk about a long-term future together?

Seems unlikely to me.

But again, I should stress, I’m not the Twins and I’m not Byron Buxton.

There was a time when our station had fun talking about contracts like those for Eloy Jiménez and Ronald Acuña when it came to Buxton and Sanó. Now, it’s messier and quite a bit more complicated. Now, we could be talking anywhere from no extension; we could be talking Whit Merrifield’s 4 years and $16.25 million; and we could still permit the Twins to fantasize about the $100 million contract that superstar Alex Bregman signed in Houston.