Twins sign pair of core young players _ Kepler and Polanco
FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — The Minnesota Twins have talked a lot about how much they like their young core of players.
They proved that Friday by locking up a pair of them, signing both right fielder Max Kepler and shortstop Jorge Polanco to five-year contracts.
“The idea that you can marry up your current players and core with ones that are coming along the way is a great thought, it allows for sustainability,” chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said at news conference at the team’s spring training facility.
“We’ve said all along that there was a core of players,” he said. “We’ve felt strongly of this group since we’ve got here.”
The players were originally signed by Minnesota as international free agents in 2009 when they were each 16-year-olds, they started together as roommates and now they’re the cornerstone of what the team hopes will be a successful run.
“We’ve got this tremendous core of players coming up,” general manager Thad Levine said. “To have some of that at fixed costs is meaningful. We have the ability to maintain these guys and complement them with championship caliber players — be it within or without.”
The Twins went 78-84 last season, a year after earning an AL wild-card spot with an 85-77 mark.
Kepler’s contract is worth $35 million and includes an option that could increase its value to at least $44 million over six years. Polanco’s deal is valued at $25.75 million, has two options that could make it worth at least $47.25 million for seven seasons.
“I probably would have signed the deal I received last year,” Kepler said, bringing laughter from many, including Levine. “Honestly, I’m the type that would play for the minimum. Playing for the minimum is an amazing life. I’m glad the surprise came twice. It worked out this time.”
Kepler, who turned 26 on Sunday, grew up playing soccer and tennis in Germany. He remembered how much he enjoyed watching former Yankees star Derek Jeter when he became interested in baseball.
He said he started playing baseball in summer camps in Texas.
“Leaving family is a hard, but playing something I wanted was a challenge and was very intriguing to me,” he said. “I’m glad I took on that challenge otherwise it would have been soccer and my dad would have been the happiest one in the family.”
He played a team-leading 156 games last season, struggling with a .224 average, but hit 20 homers.
Polanco, who turns 26 in July, batted a career-best .288 last year in 302 at-bats after serving an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
“I remember a couple of months ago we were sitting in the office and going through a very difficult conversation and emotional one for him and for everyone,” Falvey said. “I think when I look back on that and I think about what’s he’s done, when he was faced with the suspension he stayed here. . He worked and he worked every day. He was an impact on our young players.”
The news conference was filled with some of the organization’s younger players sitting in seats high up in a room named “Champion’s Hall.”
“We signed together, and we grew up together and now we’re here,” Polanco said through a translator.
Rookie manager Rocco Baldelli said it sends a great message to the entire organization.
“It’s a wonderful day for all of us to be here as Twins, to know that those two young guys are going to be around for a long period of time,” he said. “I think everyone’s going to sleep really well at night.”
NOTES: Baldelli watched some of the pitchers throw in the bullpen inside the main stadium. One he was asked about was LHP Martin Perez. “There’s a lot there and it’s a great recipe for success.” he said. . He was also asked about the team training across town, the World Series champion Red Sox. “It’s a very impressive team,” he said. “They’re pretty dynamic.”