Baseball season is just around the corner, but hot stove talks are still a major topic for Minnesota Twins fans. While the Twins have made major changes to their bullpen and are still poised for some form of upgrade to the starting rotation before opening day, second baseman Brian Dozier’s contract status beyond 2018 is still a huge question mark. Dozier has become an absolute cornerstone for the organization that drafted him back in 2009, having appeared in over 150 games every year since 2014. With a Gold Glove, 76 homers, and two appearances in the top 15 in MVP voting in the last two seasons alone, Dozier has established himself as one of the top overall second basemen in the big leagues coming into the final year of his contract with the Twins.

So far, the Twins have reportedly made no offers to Dozier for a contract extension. And while Dozier has publicly stated that he would like to remain with the Twins long-term, the team has insisted on waiting until spring training to begin talks with any players on extensions. On the surface, it seems logical that the Twins would want to extend Dozier. He’s provided stability and power to a lineup that has undergone significant changes in the past few seasons on the road to becoming a contender, and has stepped forward as one of the most important leaders in a clubhouse full of young players like Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, and Jose Berrios.

Dozier’s previous 4-year extension with the Twins prior to the 2015 season for just $20 million has been one of the biggest steals in the past few years, and there’s absolutely no chance that they can bring him back for a number even close to this again. Most projections suggest that Dozier will command an extension in the range of $50-60 million, and once again around 4-5 years in length. This number, of course, could change depending on Dozier’s 2018 season and performance, but if the Twins elect to make him an offer now, it’s not completely unrealistic to expect Dozier to accept something in this range. As mentioned before, Dozier has been quite vocal about remaining with the Twins and preferring not to be traded. Even with the 2017 turnaround, it’s not out of the question that the Twins might trade Dozier by the deadline this season if the team isn’t contending as expected. While nothing can be assumed, perhaps Dozier’s desire to stay with the Twins could lead to a slight team discount if the organization approaches him prior to the season.

What complicates matters is the future look of the Twins infield in the next few seasons. With top shortstop prospects Royce Lewis, Nick Gordon, and Wander Javier all on the rise in the minors, it seems inevitable that one will crack the big leagues by 2020. The Twins will likely take the Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano approach to playing time with Lewis if he advances and develops as quickly as some scouts anticipate, which means that he (or even Gordon or Javier) could be given a chance at a cleared position and an excellent opportunity to receive at bats and develop at the Major League level. It does seem that grooming any one of these top prospects to be a shortstop would likely move current big league shortstop Jorge Polanco back to his natural position at second base. Polanco becomes arbitration eligible in 2020, but the 24-year-old’s breakout 2017 could make him a core option in the middle infield for the next several years. But with the potential of not re-signing Joe Mauer or Eduardo Escobar after this season as well, it is very possible that the Twins could need another corner infielder.

Many trade rumors over the past few seasons that came prior to the Twins ultimately deciding to hold on to Dozier featured speculation that teams might consider moving him to third base. While Dozier has limited experience at third and a Gold Glove last season at second, the idea that extended Dozier and moving him to third base down the road might not be as crazy as it sounds. This could allow Miguel Sano, who undeniably is benefiting from consistent time at his natural position for the time being, to move across the diamond to play first base, a position where his size and range ultimately profiles better as he grows a bit older, especially considering recent leg injuries. This infield alignment would still open the door for a young shortstop while keeping Dozier’s presence and bat around for a financial commitment that could ultimately be much more affordable than other corner infield options available after 2018 or 2019 via free agency. Of course, how the Twins handle the soon-to-be 35-year-old first baseman Joe Mauer’s legacy and desire to stay in Minnesota his entire career could have some say on their infield plans for the next few seasons, but in the event that Mauer is brought back, at-bats at DH are a very realistic option.

With some of these scenarios in mind, it makes a lot of sense to put in an effort to extend Dozier rather than simply waiting to either trade him, let him test free agency, or even let him walk completely. Dozier may be on the wrong side of 30 years old, but his veteran presence amongst a young core and verbal desire to be in Minnesota for the long haul should not be lost on the Twins front office. Look for Dozier to at least receive some form of extension offer from the Twins before the season begins.

 

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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