Minnesota Twins

Is Jorge Polanco a $25 million shortstop, or are the Twins making a mistake?

The Minnesota Twins have no real money committed beyond this season, and they’re making an aggressive bet on a breakout from Jorge Polanco.

With another slow MLB free agent market this offseason, contract extensions might start coming in droves. After a previous report the Minnesota Twins were optimistic about contract extensions for multiple young core players, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reported Thursday morning the team was close to finalizing a contract extension with shortstop Jorge Polanco.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan has added it’s a seven-year deal worth around $25 million, with at five years guaranteed. It will cover Polanco’s final pre-arbitration year, all three years of his arbitration eligibility and up to three years of free agency.

Polanco was once a top-100 prospect in all of baseball, heading into the 2016 season, and in his first significant taste of big league action that season he hit .282 with a .757 OPS over 69 games. He started very slowly in 2017, with a .213/.265/,305 slash-line over his first 310 plate appearances. But from that point on, Aug. 1 through the end of the season, he slash-lined .316/.377/.553 (.931 OPS) with 10 home runs over 234 plate appearances.

But the buzz for a full breakout in 2018 faded quickly. Polanco was suspended for the first 80 games after testing positive for Stanozolol, after which he offered the familiar refrain of a positive test being caused by a tainted supplement. In 77 games after his return last year, Polanco hit .288/.345/.427 with six home runs and 42 RBI (27 extra base hits) over 333 plate appearances.

The best-case scenario for the Twins is that Polanco turn into Jose Ramirez. The Indians’ star’s deal came before his breakout, and his career slash-line to that point in his career (.275/.331/.404), with almost exactly the same amount of major league service time, was very similar to Polanco’s now (.272/.329/.420).

Polanco’s place in a future Twins’ infield is also up in the air. Former No. 1 overall pick Royce Lewis and 2014 first-round pick Nick Gordon are in the minor league pipeline at shortstop, though Gordon reached Triple-A for the first time last year and did not hit well (.212/.262/.283 over 410 plate appearances). When Miguel Sano is gone or shifted to first base, third base might ultimately be the spot for Polanco.

Prior to news of Polanco’s new deal, the only money the Twins had committed beyond the upcoming season was a $300,000 buyout of the option year on Nelson’ Cruz’s one-year deal. So they have money to burn on extensions for Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and others, but Polanco took some level of priority for some reason.

Projecting the major league future of prospects is risky business, and pretty much impossible. But shortstop is not a position of scarcity in the Twins’ minor league pipeline and now they’ve locked into a least five seasons of Polanco, who may not even be playing that position in two years. And he’s also got one strike in major league baseball’s drug testing program.

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The Twins’ lead front office duo of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have been calculated in the moves they’ve made to this point, all the way up to a managerial change. But betting on Polanco in the way they’re ready to is an aggressive step, and one that seems more likely to burn them then work out as hoped.

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