Historically, when a young, good Twins’ player says they want to get paid, it means they are leaving. Well, Jose Berrios said it, so history needs to change.
Here is the quote, via Phil Miller, that has Twins Territory buzzing.
“[I will have been] waiting six years, almost seven, to get where every player wants to be — a free agent, able to maximize our value,” Berrios said. “So it’s different now. We are in a good position, and we’ll see what the best deal is going to be.”
Six years is a long time. Through that time, Berrios has been the one constant for the Twins. He’s shared the rotation with good pitchers and bad pitchers. With rubber arms and injury risks. Through 100-win playoff seasons and through season (like this one) where nothing can go right. And yet, Berrios has been Mr. Reliable.
Since 2016, the only season that Berrios did not start at least 30 games was the pandemic-shortened 2020—in which he started 12 of 60 games, or exactly 1/5. In 2016 and 2017, he split time between the big leagues and triple-A, but he still stepped on the mound every fifth day. The old saw says that “the best ability is availability,” and in the opposite vein as the oft-debated Byron Buxton and Josh Donaldson, Berrios just doesn’t miss time. Even if he was only a mediocre pitcher, that would be enough to get a big payday on the free agent market.
And yet—Berrios is not just a mediocre pitcher. He may not have blossomed into the number one-A, capital-A ace that the Twins fanbase so desperately wanted, but he is certainly a very-good, second-tier ace pitcher. He’s the kind that a good team wants. His career MLB ERA is 4.09, but is inflated by a very-bad rookie number, and not-great sophomore campaign. Its gone down every year, and in 18 starts this season, is only 3.48. His other numbers prove that it isn’t smoke and mirrors.
If you prefer to have a precedent, similarity scores on Baseball Reference show a pretty good list of number two pitchers, plus a few true aces. And Rocky Nabisco. But lets forget about that comp.
Now, not a lot of these guys are currently making big money, but that is no reason to not sign Berrios. Lets look at a few who did get paid, and see what that suggests about Berrios.
John Lackey’s big payday came from the Boston Red Sox in 2010, when he signed for five years and $82.5 million. His 18 million that season was the highest on the team, and 11th in baseball. In 2021, the 11th highest paid player in baseball is a tie between Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, at $30 million.
Meanwhile, Max Scherzer is earning nearly $35 million this season, as he nears the end of a 7-year, $210-million deal with the Nationals.
In 2014, the Twins paid Rocky Nabisco $12 million, when the highest paid guy in the game was making $28 million. By that standard, that would be around $20 million in today’s terms.
On the flip side, look at what Chris Tillman, Zach Davies, and our own Kenta Maeda are making. No way Berrios takes anything like that.
So, we can see a case for Berrios to earn $30 million, $20 million, or perhaps less based on other players. But, the biggest factor is “what does he mean to the Twins?” Pitcher like that do not grow on trees, and the Twin’s rotation is full of questions going into the future. Berrios and Maeda are the only things close to “sure.” We’ve seen good signs from Bailey Ober and Charlie Barnes, and mixed from Griffin Jax. Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran are still down on the farm, but otherwise the minors are looking barren. If the Twins want to compete, they need to spend money on pitching—and big money. There isn’t a much safer bet they can make than signing Jose Berrios long term.
If I am Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, I am offering Berrios a 5-year, $150-million contract with a smile on my face. Yes, that’s a lot more money than the Twins have ever paid anyone, but there are few guys in Twins history with a stronger case for it. If the Twins want to play in free agency, they would end up spending more to get less anyhow.