Buried deep in Miguel Sano’s new three-year, $30 million contract is some boilerplate language about bonuses, token rewards for excellence that are typical of most MLB contracts. Win a Gold Glove, the paragraph says, and you’ll receive an extra $50,000.
Consider Sano incentivized.
“I can win a Gold Glove,” the burly third baseman contended Tuesday, a claim that’s easy to doubt given that the Twins agreed to a contract with third baseman Josh Donaldson later in the day.
“I’ll win a Gold Glove at first base, too,” Sano said. “I can do it.”
Such is the confidence and goodwill that locking in a $10 million average salary will generate in a ballplayer who grew up impoverished in the Dominican Republic, and whose career has included as many setbacks as breakthroughs. Though still only 18 months removed from a demotion to the minor leagues, Sano smashed a career-high 34 home runs in just 105 games in 2019, and convinced the Twins that he can be a core member of a pennant-contending team.
Even if it means away from his preferred position.
“It’s not really important. I can play outfield, first [base], third [base]. I’m just willing and able to do whatever it takes,” said Sano, whose career as a right fielder lasted all of 38 games in 2016. “The important thing is to just go out there and play baseball.”
In fact, Sano has been preparing to play either position this winter, and he sounded agreeable to eventually moving. “I’m a big guy. I can play [third base], but teams [worry] that big guys get hurt,” said Sano, whose 275-pound frame is loaded with additional muscle, he said, after a month of offseason workouts. “You don’t get hurt as much at first [base].”
And getting hurt has been an issue for Sano, who has yet to play more than 116 games in his five big-league seasons. Many scouts, in fact, project Sano as an permanent designated hitter eventually, but his agent said it’s too early to consider something so drastic.
“If the team asks him, if Rocco [Baldelli, the Twins’ manager] asks him to be a first baseman, he’ll be the best first baseman he can be. But DH, it’s probably way too soon for him,” said Miguel Alvarez, who helped negotiate Sano’s contract. “He likes to be in the game. He needs to be sweaty. That’s when he’s at his best.”
Sano is working to be even better this winter, having hired a personal trainer to keep him in shape — “Look at how good he looks now,” Alvarez marveled about his muscular client. “And he’s only 80 percent ready for spring.” — and a hitting coach to refine his swing and improve his plate discipline.
Sano will be paid $7 million for the 2020 season, a 164% raise over the $2.65 million he earned last summer, and his salary will jump to $11 million in 2021. The Twins will gain a little flexibility in 2022 when the salary declines to $9.25 million, and they will face a choice in 2023: Pay Sano $14 million or a $2.75 million buyout.
Incentives can add as much as $3 million to that 2023 salary, though some of them, like winning Gold Gloves, are considered long shots. The most important incentive to the Twins is plate appearances: If he reaches 550 each season, the team will gladly add to that paycheck.
On the day he signed the first multiyear contract of his life, Sano, wearing a gold-and-diamond chain that spelled out his surname in huge capital letters, sounded appropriately optimistic about his future. Thirty million is a lot of money, isn’t it?
“It’s not a lot,” Sano said with a grin. “I can get even more.”