Brian Dozier, Twins Agree to a Safe Contract

On the heels of contract extensions for Christian Yelich and Adam Eaton, Brian Dozier and the Minnesota Twins got in on the action, agreeing to a four-year deal worth $20 million. Brian Dozier is one year further along in his career and one year closer to arbitration than Yelich and Eaton. Looking strictly at the numbers and comparing them to the nearly $50 million guaranteed to Yelich and the $23.5 million guaranteed to Eaton, Dozier’s numbers initially look a little light given his service time. However, unlike the deals for Yelich and Eaton, Dozier is not giving away any free agent years. The deal is a safe one for both the Twins and Dozier, and it is a throwback to extensions that have not been common in recent years.

For players who have yet to reach arbitration, the typical extension buys out one or more free agent years. Last spring, three players who were on year away from arbitration, like Dozier, signed contract extensions.

Player Team Position Contract Club Options Free Agent Years
Jason Kipnis CLE 2B 6/52.5 1 3
Mike Trout LAA CF 6/144.5 0 2
Matt Carpenter STL 2B / 3B 6/52.0 1 3

Dozier’s $20 million guarantee pales in comparison to those players, two of them second basemen of similar ages coming off very good years like Dozier. The last column is the important one when it comes to Dozier’s contract. Teams that receive free agent years as part of a contract extension have to pay considerably higher guarantees. As I wrote last month, Dozier is at an ideal time in his career for a contract extension.

He has had two solid years in a row, including his breakout in 2014. He is set to make just around the minimum of $507,500 this season, making this spring an opportune time to work out a deal before he hits arbitration after the year. He has shown improvement every year he has been in the big leagues, increasing his walk rate from 4.7% to 8.2% to 12.6% last season. With a career .156 ISO, he provides decent power from second base in addition to his excellent speed on the basepaths (8.3 BsR in 2014).

The deal the team reached with Dozier is likely not the contract either player or team sought out at the outset of negotiations. Dozier was likely looking for a higher guarantee while the Twins wanted to receive some of Dozier’s free agent years. While all contracts are compromises, the Twins deal with Dozier probably represents more of a fallback option than two teams apart on terms who kept moving forward to an agreeable middle.

A few other recent fallback contracts include Lance Lynn’s three-year, $21 million contract signed this offseason as well as contracts for Clayton Kershaw and Joey Votto that bought out a few arbitration years, but no free agent years. The teams likely attempted the framework of a longer deal, but ultimately went with something shorter. Votto eventually received an extension on top of his extension. Dozier’s deal is different from Lynn, Votto, and Kershaw’s because Dozier has not yet reached arbitration. The Twins could have paid Dozier the Major League Baseball minimum salary this season and discussed a three-year deal next season buying his arbitration years or further explored a longer deal.

Very few deals in recent years have gone to pre-arbitration players and not bought out free agent years. There have been several deals for players with similar service time to Dozier and not bought out any free agent years, but those players with a couple extra months of service time qualified for super-2 status. Those deals have been popular for relievers like Kelvim Herrera, Craig Stammen, Logan Ondrusek, and Jose Arredondo, but all of those player were in their first year of arbitation. In the last four offseasons, the only pre-arbitration position players to receive contract extensions not buying any free agent years were fringe-starter catchers in Ryan Hanigan and Josh Thole, and they received less than $5 million guaranteed, per a search on MLB Trade Rumors Extension Tracker.

Signing good pre-arbitration players to contracts that only went through arbitration was a little more common 5-10 years ago. Three similar deals were completed in 2007 with another signing in 2010.

Player Date Team Contract Club Options Free Agent Years
Mark Reynolds 3/18/2010 ARI 3/14.5 1 0
Adrian Gonzalez 4/1/2007 SDP 4/9.5 1 0
Jose Lopez 4/1/2007 SEA 4/6.1 1 0
Yuniesky Betancourt 4/1/2007 SEA 4/13.8 1 0

It is probably not too difficult to believe that their teams wanted to lock up young sluggers Mark Reynolds and Adrian Gonzalez. It might be more difficult to think of Jose Lopez and Yunieksy Betancourt as the once promising double-play duo for the Mariners. Seattle signed both players to inexpensive contracts, and although they were unable to deliver on their promise, the Mariners were not set back financially.

Dozier has shown some promise with a wRC+ of 118 from second base netting him close to a five-win season in 2014. Although he is an ideal player to lock up, the length of the deal might have been a question for the Twins. Tony Blengino took a look at the prospect of an extension for Dozier and noted the following:

Every club needs Brian Doziers in their system. He is an overachiever who has constantly figured it out as he has advanced, through college, into the minors, and then into the major leagues. To become a starter at that level and have some success, he has had to totally sell out to the short term fruits of extreme pulling. Pitchers are now likely to have the last word. To borrow a contemporary nightly news sound bite, one doesn’t know whether a deal is bad until the particulars of that deal are known. There are certainly terms which would make a Dozier deal look good from the Twins’ perspective. Chances are, though, that a long-term deal for Dozier would look at 2014’s 23 homers and 4.6 WAR as a base expectation rather than the career peak that it more likely represents, and that wouldn’t likely end well for the Twins.

Four years and $20 million represents a safe deal for both sides. The Twins receive cost certainty for a solid player without committing money they could regret if Dozier declines from 2014. Dozier receives financial security while still one year away from arbitration. More importantly for Dozier, he does not give away any free agent seasons. He will still be eligible for free agency after 2018 and his Age-31 season. If he had given away any free agent seasons at his age, he could have cost himself considerably seeking a contract well out of his prime. The deal is not one that will cause great waves in the market moving forward, but if more players place an emphasis on getting to free agency, this type of deal could become more common.





Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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rhswanzey
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Today I learned that Yuniesky Betancourt got 150% of Adrian Gonzalez’s pre-arb contract on the same day. April Fool’s!