The Minnesota Twins avoided arbitration with their slugging third baseman on Friday, signing him to a three-year contract extension.
The Minnesota Twins were busy on Friday afternoon as they looked to settle with several arbitration-eligible players without having their business taken to a hearing. While the Twins struck multiple deals keeping those players in a Minnesota uniform (for now), the biggest news was the club reaching a three-year extension with third baseman Miguel Sano.
The deal for Sano, which was originally reported by ESPN’s Jeff Passan, is a solid one as it could be worth up to $30 million and buys out the first two seasons of potential free agency according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. As one of the key cogs of the Bomba Squad, Sano hit .247/.346/.576 with a career-high 34 home runs and 79 RBI in just 105 games last season.
With the concerns about conditioning and injuries behind him, it appears that the contract is a vote of confidence that he can continue to improve.
While the offensive numbers are great, there are several areas of Sano’s game that will need improvement. For starters, he strikes out at a ridiculous rate, whiffing 159 times in 439 plate appearances (36.2%) last season. Baseball Savant’s analysis went deeper as Statcast recorded a 38.1% overall whiff rate, but missing over 50 percent of the time on breaking (50.6%) and offspeed (52.6%) pitches.
The good news is that when Sano does make contact with the ball it goes a long way. Sano came in second in average exit velocity (94.4 MPH) last season behind Aaron Judge (95.9 MPH) and trumped Judge (57.1%) in hard contact percentage (57.2%). The 26-year old also has an underrated eye at the plate, chasing 26.2% of the time and drawing 55 walks (12.5% walk rate).
There are many things to like about Sano at the plate, but his defense has left plenty of questions. As a larger third baseman, his range seems to be limited and his ultimate zone rating of -6.7 extrapolated to -19.9 over 150 games per FanGraphs. Baseball Savant had a different view, however, as their new outs above average metric graded Sano at -3 ahead of Manny Machado (-5) and just below free-agent targets Mike Moustakas (-2) and Todd Frazier (-1).
For a player that has just as many positives as negatives, a three-year, $30 million deal is one that keeps him off the free-agent market and still makes him attractive if the Twins want to explore a trade down the road.
If Sano continues to hit like he did last season and make improvements, there’s a good chance he can come through on the value of the deal and make this a bargain moving forward.