Mauer and Twins still talking despite yesterday's report of a done deal

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The latest news on Joe Mauer is that there really isn’t any news.
Mark Rosen of WCCO television in Minnesota reported yesterday afternoon that Mauer and the Twins had agreed to a 10-year contract extension, which naturally got Twins fans incredibly excited. Unfortunately it turns out that Rosen’s report seems to be somewhere between premature and off base.
While the consensus is that Mauer and the Twins will eventually get a long-term extension completed before Opening Day, everyone involved has denied that a deal of any kind–let alone a 10-year contract–is already in place. In fairness to Rosen he’s been a prominent figure in the Twin Cities media for nearly 40 years and is definitely well-respected, so it’s possible that he merely jumped the gun on his report and the two sides are now playing cover up.
However, in the meantime nearly every major local and national media outlet has contradicted his report. This afternoon Peter Gammons wrote that the “Mauer contract is far from done and could be quite some time before it’s completed” while Bob Nightengale of USA Today revealed that “Mauer laughed at reports that he agreed to a 10-year contract” and said there was “no truth” to it.
As a Twins fan I’m certainly hoping that Rosen is right about Mauer agreeing to a long-term deal, but as a baseball writer I also can’t help but wonder how different the media’s reaction to his report would’ve been if he were a blogger instead of a TV sports anchor. My guess? Mauer and the Twins will finalize a deal by Opening Day, but it will come significantly later than Rosen claimed and the contract won’t be for 10 years.

Six of seven players decline $17.9 million qualifying offers

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Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu was the only one of seven eligible players to accept his $17.9 million qualifying offer. Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, Craig Kimbrel, Patrick Corbin, Yasmani Grandal, and Dallas Keuchel each rejected his, officially making them free agents. Teams that had their QO’s rejected will recoup a draft pick once the player signs elsewhere.

That Harper rejected his QO comes as no surprise, as he is expected to strike perhaps the largest free agent contract in baseball history. Though the free agent market has been less lucrative lately than in previous years, the combination of Harper’s elite talent and his age — he’s only 26 years old — makes him a primary target for more than a handful of teams. Harper reportedly turned down a 10-year, $300 million contract extension offer from the Nationals, so that would seem to be a baseline.

It is also not surprising that Kimbrel, 30, turned down his QO from the Red Sox. Despite a so-so showing during a championship run, Kimbrel is still young and talented enough to land another lucrative contract on the free agent market.

Keuchel bet on himself in turning down the Astros’ QO. He’s been solid since winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, owning a 3.77 ERA across 83 starts over the last three seasons. However, he turns 31 years old at the beginning of 2019, and his already mediocre strikeout rate declined even further this past season, so there may be some skepticism about his ability to perform over the course of a multi-year deal. Keuchel will still get one eventually, but his market may be slower to develop.

Pollock, soon 31 as well, will be the outfielder most coveted once Harper is off the market. When he’s healthy, he’s a dynamic five-tool player. However, Pollock hasn’t played in more than 113 games in a season since 2015, so that may be a red flag. Pollock ended 2018 batting .257/.316/.484 with 21 home runs, 65 RBI, 61 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases in 460 plate appearances while playing above-average defense according to various defensive metrics.

Grandal, 30, could’ve gone either way with his QO, but ultimately chose to decline. He had a disappointing postseason, both offensively and defensively. Given how humans are prone to recency bias, it stood to reason that his October performance could have hurt his market. The catching position, however, is rather weak and Grandal stands out in a market that is otherwise focused on Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. Grandal did swat 24 home runs with an .815 OPS in 140 games for the Dodgers this past season.

Corbin, 29, was the most obvious QO decline after Harper. The lefty is coming off of a career year, finishing with a 3.15 ERA and a 246/48 K/BB ratio in exactly 200 innings. Corbin is the best free agent pitcher on the market this offseason. The Yankees have been seriously linked with Corbin even before the season ended.

Ryu likely chose to accept his QO because of his age and injury history. It would have been a gamble to pursue a multi-year deal. He did, however, make 15 starts during the regular season to the tune of a 1.97 ERA with 89 strikeouts and 15 walks in 82 1/3 innings. Those are great numbers. And most clubs would have been smart enough to look beyond his 5.21 ERA in the postseason, which has more to do with a leaky bullpen than his own personal failings. Still, it’s hard to fault Ryu for playing it safe and taking the guaranteed $17.9 million for one year.