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Twins reach five-year deals with Kepler, Polanco

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins have locked up a pair of young position players for the long term by agreeing to five-year contracts with right fielder Max Kepler and shortstop Jorge Polanco, according to two people with direct knowledge of the deals.

The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team had yet to announce the contracts, which were reached on Thursday as pitchers and catchers went through their first workout in Fort Myers, Florida. The Twins scheduled a news conference for Friday.

Kepler’s contract is worth $35 million and includes a $10 million club option for 2024 with a $1 million buyout. Polanco’s deal, which is valued at $25.75 million, has a 2024 option that could become guaranteed as well as a 2025 club option.

Kepler, who turned 26 on Sunday, had agreed last month to a $3,125,000 salary for 2019 in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Entering his fourth full season as a regular in the lineup, Kepler won the team’s defensive player of the year award in 2018. He never found a rhythm at the plate, batting a career-low .224, but he set his major league career high with 20 home runs.

Raised in Berlin and signed by the Twins as a 16-year-old, Kepler has long been considered a late bloomer by the organization who has only scratched the surface of his potential because of his roots in Germany where baseball is mostly an afterthought.

With this contract, the Twins could buy out his first three years of eligibility for free agency. With so many unsigned stars still on the market around MLB, the Twins have expressed caution toward such commitments with their not-there-yet status. So chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine turned inward to begin assembling a core of what they’re targeting as a future contender.

Kepler and Polanco will now be the only players on the books for 2020 and beyond. Designated hitter Nelson Cruz and starting pitcher Martin Perez have club options for next season, but they can be bought out.

Polanco, who will turn 26 in July, wasn’t going to be eligible for arbitration until next year. Entering his third season as a regular, Polanco batted a career-best .288 last year in 302 at-bats after serving an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug .

One of the team’s top prospects, Royce Lewis, is a shortstop who was drafted out of high school with the first overall pick in 2017, so Polanco could always find himself at a different position near the end of this deal. Another recent first-round pick, Nick Gordon, was selected fifth overall in 2014 as a shortstop out of high school. He has already begun to play some second base, having finished last year with Triple-A Rochester.

Larry Walker to wear a Rockies cap on his Hall of Fame plaque

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I guess this came out the day he was elected but I missed it somehow: Larry Walker is going to have a Rockies cap on his Fall of Fame plaque.

While it was once solely the choice of the inductee, for the past couple of decades the Hall of Fame has had final say on the caps, though the request of the inductee is noted. This is done to prevent a situation in which a cap truly misrepresents history. This issue arose around the time Wade Boggs was inducted, as he reportedly had a deal with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to pick their cap on his plaque which, to say the least, would’ve been unrepresentative.

There have been some mildly controversial picks in the past, and some guys who would seem to have a clear choice have gone with blank caps to avoid upsetting the fan base of one of his other teams, but Walker’s doesn’t seem all that controversial to me.

Walker played ten years in Colorado to six years in Montreal and two years in St. Louis. His numbers in Colorado were substantial better than in Montreal. His MVP Award, most of his Gold Gloves, most of his All-Star appearances, and all of his black ink with the exception of the NL doubles title in 1994 came with the Rockies too. Walker requested the Rockies cap, noting correctly that he “did more damage” in a Rockies uniform than anyplace else. And, of course, that damage is what got him elected to the Hall of Fame.

Still, I imagine fans of the old Expos will take at least some issue here. Those folks tend to be pretty possessive of their team’s old stars. It’s understandable, I suppose, given that they’ve not gotten any new ones in a decade or two. Add in the fact that Walker played for the 1994 Expos team onto which people love to project things both reasonable and unreasonable, and you can expect that the Expos dead-enders might feel a bit slighted.

Welp, sorry. A Rockies cap is the right choice.  And that’s Walker’s cap will feature.