The Free Press, Mankato, MN


March 3, 2014

Thoma column: Making (service) time stop for Buxton and Sano


Buxton and Sano are, like Mauer, rare talents. The Twins and their fans salivate over the notion of two such players as lineup anchors. But they also have the question of how long they can be kept together.

Buxton may well be able, right now, to hit .260 with dozens of steals in the majors, and we know he can play Gold Glove caliber defense in center. But the Twins aren’t going to waste a service-time year on a developmental season.

And the same would apply to Sano were he healthy.

Now, a rule of thumb: Players are at their peak in their late 20s. A player (such as Brian Dozier) who debuts at age 24 won’t reach free agency until he’s 30. Team control lasts through his prime years.

Buxton and Sano, on the other hand, should reach free agency at a much earlier age. Mike Trout, regarded as the best player in the game by everyone except Tigers fans and the MVP electorate, figures to hit free agency at age 26, just as his prime years are kicking in. If Buxton pushes his way to the majors this season, a real possibility, the same will be true for him.

How can the Twins avoid the dilemma of having two bank-busting free agents come due almost simultaneously? Pay them early.

Players (and agents) accept the baseball serf years in anticipation of the big paydays a half decade down the road. My notion: The Twins would do well to see if the players (and their agents) would entertain the idea of a career-type deal right off the bat.

Here’s our offer, Mr. Buxton (or Mr. Sano). Fifteen years, $200 million. Or 20 years, $250 million. Your choice. Starts immediately.

The Twins would, obviously, carry the risk of a career-altering injury. (Sano’s elbow is a reminder of that risk.) The player, in accepting such a deal, would be conceding that he’ll never be the highest-paid player in the game. The team would be free to move the players up without concern over service time, and spread out over that much time, the bulky totals would be readily absorbed into the budget.

It’s Mauer money, but without the drama of service time and free agency speculation.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.

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