The Twins have agreed to contract extensions with shortstop Jorge Polanco and right fielder Max Kepler. Polanco’s deal was the first to be reported first today as he signed for $25.75M guaranteed for five years with two club options. Kepler’s extension for five years/$35M plus a club option was reported shortly after. With these extensions, the Twins will buy out the two pre-arbitration/arbitration years for each player. Polanco’s extension could buy out up to three free agent years and Kepler’s can lock him up for two.
These extensions end what has been a quiet period for the Twins this offseason and provide some future sense of stability in the Minnesota lineup. Polanco, 25, had an OPS+ of 130 during the second half of the 2017 season and seemed poised for a breakout before a PED suspension forced him to miss the first half of the 2018 season. He still played well in 77 games last season, slashing .288/.345/.427. Polanco seems like a candidate to move to second base full-time at some point during his extension with top SS prospect Royce Lewis ascending through the minors.
Kepler, 26, has been a consistent presence in the Twins lineup throughout his first three years in the big leagues. The problem, however, is that he may be too consistent. He’s had a bWAR of 2.2, 2.0, and 2.8 in his first three years, with marginal improvement each year. Though a breakout has seemingly been on the horizon for the past two seasons, there is reason to believe 2019 could finally be the year for Kepler. The most glaring hole in Kepler’s game was his ability (or inability) to hit left-handed pitching. But after posting a .595 OPS against LHP in 2016, and a dreadful .453 OPS against them in 2017, he had a .745 OPS against LHP in 2018. If he can have continued success in 2019, the Twins will have a very solid right fielder on their hands.
Both of these players provide high floors and some possibly untapped potential. They appear to be fixtures in the Twins lineup for the duration of their extensions.
These may not be the only extensions the Twins sign this month (or even this week). There are plenty of reasons to believe that the Twins will try to extend starting pitcher Jose Berrios and left fielder Eddie Rosario as well. Locking these two up would also sit well with Twins fans considering that they were two of the main bright spots in Twins Territory last year.
Extending these players now seems like a wise move for Minnesota. With a frustratingly low payroll coming into this season, keeping a few of their own players in Minnesota could make a lot of slighted Twins fans feel more at ease. If they can lock up Berrios and Rosario, the Twins will have a solid core in place by the time the next wave of prospects come up to join the big league club.
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