On Tuesday, Mike Berardino filed a report on how the Minnesota Twins and Brian Dozier were making progress towards an extension. In came as a bit of a surprise, not because Dozier isn't worthy of being considered for a long-term contract but because he won't be arbitration eligible until after the 2015 season.
Dozier was worth 4.6 fWAR in 2014; the fifth-best mark for a second baseman on the year. Over the last two seasons he's been worth 7.3 fWAR, which ties him for seventh-best in that period (with Ian Kinsler). To answer the very basic question "Is Brian Dozier one of the best second basemen in baseball?" the answer is quite obviously "Yes - yes he is."
Part of what makes Dozier so valuable is that he's currently a pre-arbitration player. Of those six other second basemen alluded to in the last paragraph, most of them are making multiple millions per season; while the Phillies paid Chase Utley $25 million for 8.1 fWAR the last two years, for his 7.3 fWAR the Twins paid Dozier just north of $1 million. Such is the power, and the value, in having very good players under team control.
Considering the company that Dozier has kept these last two years, it's clear why Minnesota is interested in securing a multi-year deal with their star second baseman. Second base is a premium position, and a guy who can hit for power at that position tends to get expensive very quickly. By securing a multi-year contract the team achieves a level of stability within their payroll. For Dozier, it's a guaranteed payday. Both sides benefit.
But the Twins only truly benefit if Dozier continues to perform at a near All-Star level. This is where we start to see the tough questions. Tony Blengino posted on the topic of locking up Dozier over at FanGraphs earlier today, and he comes to the conclusion that while Dozier is a fine overall player who has commendable skill sets and an uncanny history of adjusting and finding ways to be successful, he may be heading for what we might optimistically call a plateau.
Brian Dozier has now established himself as one of the most extreme pull hitters in the game. ... A typical righthanded hitter might have a pull ratio of a little over 1:1 on fly balls, about 2:1 on liners, and 4:1 on grounders. Dozier’s marks were 2.35 for fly balls, 3.17 for liners, and 6.20 for grounders in 2014. Extreme pulling is generally a hallmark of a player harvesting power near the end of a career, when it’s basically all that he has left in his offensive game. ... Pitchers develop a book on such hitters, and over time will give them nothing they can pull for distance. Hitters must then adjust, or perish. Unfortunately for such hitters, extreme pulling is quite often their last adjustment. Dozier has not shown an ability to hit a ball even reasonably hard the other way in the air, on a line, or on the ground. Pitchers are going to pitch him away, and all Dozier is going to be able to do is draw a walk……for a little while at least, until that skill begins to decline as his ability to inflict damage erodes. ... 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.
I think that's a bit of a doomsday scenario, but we'd be foolish to not see Blengino's conclusion for what it is: a likelihood. Lew Ford flashed for the Twins early in his career before pitchers got a book on him and stopped throwing him inside.
But it's also worth noting that players can adjust. Trevor Plouffe did just that in 2014, after developing a reputation as being a quasi-dangerous pull hitter; hopefully Plouffe can continue to hit well this year. But when you adjust to being a pull hitter so early in your career, as Dozier has done, it's worth attempting to see the forest for the trees.
Keeping all of that in mind, let's explore a few specifics about what an extension for Dozier might involve in terms of years, age, and dollars.
|Status||Pre-Arb||Arb 1||Arb 2||Arb 3||Free Agent||Free Agent|
We go a fair distance into the future here, because a couple of players who have recently received similar extensions had them go that long. Let's run through that list of comparable players.
Recent comparable extensions
|Player||Pos||Extension Length||Extension Value||Age in 1st Year||Service Time|
|Kyle Seager (SEA)||3B||7 Years
(plus 1 year club option)
|$100.0 MM||27 (2015)||3.085|
|Jason Kipnis (CLE)||2B||6 Years
(plus 1 year club option)
|$52.5 MM||27 (2014)||2.075|
|Matt Carpenter (STL)||2B/3B||6 Years
(plus 1 year club option)
|$52.0 MM||28 (2014)||2.012|
|Jedd Gyorko (SD)||2B||5 Years
(plus 1 year club option)
|$35.0 MM||26 (2015)||2.000|
|Todd Frazier (CIN)||3B||2 Years||$12.0 MM||29 (2015)||3.071|
Dozier's age in year one (28) and his service time (2.100) are certainly in line with the field. Of this group, Dozier's OPS (.715) ranks fifth, his home runs (47) third, his stolen bases (44) second, and his RBI (170) fifth. Which isn't bad by any means, considering the company.
Where you may begin to draw some separation between these six players, all of whom have relatively small Major League track records, is when you bring in their minor league history. A short MLB track record of production isn't a bad baseline off of which to work if that player was also a consistent offensive player as he rose through his respective system. And this is where Dozier's history works against him.
Minor league track record
In this context, some of those extensions start to make a little more sense. Gyorko was a fantastic hitter in the minor leagues, even if his 2014 with the Padres wasn't all that inspiring. Kipnis, Seager, and Frazier looked like fairly complete hitters. Carpenter's eye was second to none, and it's a trait that's continued in his time with the Cardinals. All of them showed a level of power in the minor leagues that Dozier did not.
As pessimistic as some of this might sound, I'm actually not opposed to a Dozier extension. Seager's deal is in another stratosphere so we don't need to consider that one anyway, but even if the front office is using Kipnis and Carpenter as comparables then I'd be very nervous. Dozier is a good player, and because he's still under team control his value as a pre-arbitration player is on the extreme high end of the chart, but in understanding the full context of Dozier's history, how he uses his power and the factors going into his batted ball tendencies, there is every reason in the world to be cautious.
This discussion can go a number of ways. Yes, the Twins could consider trading Dozier since his value is high, but such a deal would almost certainly make the team less competitive in 2015 by forcing a lesser player into the position. A number of people I've spoken to believe that a Dozier extension should buy out all of his arbitration seasons (and potentially his first year of free agency). Both of those options seem premature.
The pragmatic option is to wait on extending Dozier. By asking him to perform for one more season, the Twins would be making a wiser investment by having a player with another year's record under his belt. There is also zero pressure on the organization to extend Dozier at this point in time, since he's under team control for four more years. It's worth noting that in 2018, his third and final year of arbitration eligibility, Dozier will be in his age-31 season.
If we wanted to go outside those boxes, the Twins could sign their star second baseman to a three-year contract. It splits the difference between doing nothing (and risking a larger contract if Dozier has another very good year), and committing too early and for too long if Dozier tanks.
Frazier, the Reds third baseman, will have his third year of arbitration eligibility waiting on the other end of his two-year deal. Minnesota could go a similar route on a three-year offer. It would still guarantee Dozier a payday, and it would still give the Twins a level payroll certainty in 2016 and 2017, yet the commitment is shorter and it would be a friendly-looking contract should the team choose to explore trade options down the line. Jorge Polanco may not be ready to fill in at second base this year, or even next year full-time, but he (or someone else) could be ready eventually.
The biggest issue at play here isn't the money. It's the years. So, sure. The Twins could certainly explore an extension with Brian Dozier and have it turn out well for everyone. But there's also a scenario here where the risk becomes worrisome. Let's hope the Twins don't go beyond three or four years.