No extension talks yet for Twins stars Sano or Kepler

FORT MYERS, Fla. — While initial conversations regarding a multiyear deal for Byron Buxton have yet to gain traction, according to a person with direct knowledge, Miguel Sano and Max Kepler say they haven’t been approached.

“No, not yet,” Sano told the Pioneer Press on Tuesday, March 6. “I want to take my time, want to play my game. If something happens, it happens, but I’m not thinking about that. I’m thinking about playing my game.”

Sano, 24, is coming off his first all-star season but also underwent Nov. 13 surgery to insert a titanium rod in his left shin. In addition, the power-hitting third baseman is awaiting the outcome of a Major League Baseball investigation into a Dec. 28 Twitter allegation against Sano by freelance photographer Betsy Bissen, who accused Sano of grabbing her wrist and making unwanted advances in an October 2015 incident at a Minnetonka, Minn., mall.

Representatives from Major League Baseball’s security department were at Hammond Stadium on Tuesday morning for their annual presentation to Twins players and staff.

Sano, who made $573,000 last season and figures to see that number climb above $600,000 in 2018, is among 11 Twins who could be eligible for salary arbitration next offseason.

Kepler, meanwhile, made $547,000 last season as an everyday right fielder and said he wasn’t aware of any multiyear talks for him either. How receptive would the 25-year-old signed out of Germany be to such an offer?

“It depends what they offer, obviously, but I’m not going to jump the gun,” he told the Pioneer Press. “I’d just sit down, talk it over with my agent, see what’s realistic. But yeah, this is where I want to be, with this squad, most definitely. I like this team and I want to stick with it as long as I can.”

Right-hander Jose Berrios, who is still two seasons away from being eligible for salary arbitration, said he hasn’t been approached about a multiyear deal either. Berrios, coming off a 14-win season, has agreed to a contract paying him $570,000 this year.

In Buxton’s case, Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts’ recent $10.5 million award via arbitration — the highest ever for a player in his first year of eligibility — could make it more difficult to convince a talented player like Buxton to exchange his year-to-year earning potential for guaranteed security on a multiyear deal.

According to MLB Trade Rumors, recent extensions for center fielders Ender Inciarte (Atlanta Braves) and Odubel Herrera (Philadelphia Phillies) could impact the Buxton talks, considering both players had similar service time upon signing to Buxton’s current two-plus years.

Inciarte was 26 when he signed a five-year, $30.525 million deal that bought out three free agent years. Herrera was 25 when he signed for $30.5 million over five years, giving up two years of potential free agency.

Over the weekend, the St. Louis Cardinals extended shortstop Paul DeJong for $26 million over six years, plus a pair of club options that could boost the total value to $51 million over eight years. DeJong is coming off a rookie season in which he hit 25 home runs and slugged .532.

His deal could provide context for what it would take to lock up young Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco (one-plus years of service time) for an extended period.

Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said recently Twins players aren’t necessarily receiving added attention in light of their potential for market-shaping multiyear deals.

“Ninety-nine percent of our focus is on the free-agent market,” Clark said. “Teams that have young talented players, you engage them, you engage their agents and simply make sure they have as much information as they can, and then if they are approached by a club in regards to a possibility moving forward, they can make the decisions that are best for them.”

A historically tepid free-agent market seemed to have slowed the normal flow of multiyear extensions for young stars, but Clark said he wasn’t sure if the year-over-year data would support that or not.

“I’m not suggesting we aren’t aware of some of the conversations that are being had, and it does remain to be seen whether any of those deals are going to be consummated,” he said in late February. “What we do and will continue to do is engage the individual representatives and the players themselves. Our goal is simply that the players make educated decisions against whatever considerations they are working through.”

The last Twins player to sign away his arbitration years was second baseman Brian Dozier, who agreed to a four-year, $20 million extension heading into the 2015 season. That deal, however, failed to buy out any of Dozier’s potential free-agent years, much less tack on a club-friendly option year or two.

Dozier, who was 27 when he signed his extension, has provided an estimated $113.1 million of value over the past three seasons, according to Fangraphs. He is due to hit the open market for the first time next winter.