If and when the Twins ever resume playing — as soon as tonight! — after this weather-marred but undeniably successful soft launch to the 2018 season, the Brian Dozier countdown clock will also keep ticking.
It’s entirely possible that he has just 151 regular-season games left in his Twins career. But what happens in those 151 games could still play a significant role in his future.
Six weeks ago, the Star Tribune’s Jim Souhan wrote about Dozier’s impending free agency after this season and noted that the Twins second baseman was not engaged in contract extension talks with the team.
“I don’t want to touch too much on this, it’s the thing that gets asked all the time, but at the same time, I will be a free agent this fall,” Dozier told Souhan. “That’s the bottom line. You can only say you want to be here so much, and nothing gets done. That’s just the way it is. I understand everything. At the same time, you’re six months away from free agency. That’s intriguing.”
Six weeks later, nothing appears to have changed. I only circle back on this subject now because of a recent ESPN.com Insider piece (subscription required) that attempted to use projected production of top impending free agents to estimate what sorts of deals they might get on the open market next offseason.
If the perception is that Dozier, who turns 31 next month and would turn 32 early in a free agent deal, might be squeezed because of his age and position in a market that turned cold this past offseason, th ESPN piece at least went against that thinking. He was tabbed as worthy of a five-year, $77 million deal — not a break-the-bank contract, but a make-you-blink deal deal, at least, when considering that’s an annual value of $15+ million that will carry Dozier into his age 36 season.
Dozier, of course, has showed no signs of slowing down. Quite the opposite, his trajectory is still on an upward arc after smashing 76 home runs over the past two seasons and four more in the Twins’ 7-4 cold-weather start this year. He’s been a bargain on his current four-year, $20 million deal.
But if the Twins want to keep costs down, they have a bevy of young middle infield prospects, including the knocking-on-the-door Nick Gordon. The Twins also have just four players under contract in 2019 and exactly zero in 2020 — making it seem obvious that they could not only afford Dozier but should want to keep him. In not too long, though, a lot of the young core players that are under team control will start hitting free agency. The payroll and commitments will go up accordingly.
It’s possible the Twins would try to trade Dozier this season to get something in return for him, but that seems unlikely given that they appear poised to be in contention for the playoffs again. Maybe he’ll have a monster first half of the year and an extension will happen.
But the most likely outcome at this point seems to be Dozier hitting free agency — and a situation where might be more valuable to the Twins than anyone else but might also find a salary with another team that the Twins aren’t willing to match.