Optimistic Twins fans are looking to the future - a future that likely includes two apparent stars in the making, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano.
Many who closely follow prospects believe Buxton will need more seasoning in the minor leagues, despite appearing atop nearly every prospect list in baseball.
One question on the minds of Twins fans:
Will Miguel Sano be the opening day third baseman?
If the Twins are prudent, he won't be.
Sano said at TwinsFest this year that he thinks he can hit 45 or 55 home runs this year. Twins fans drool when they hear the projection, not only because of the power potential but also because of the brash confidence.
I haven't seen Sano play. But I've read a lot of Sano scouting reports and have studied his stats.
He certainly has star potential.
From a talent perspective, he may belong on the 2014 Twins, whether at third base or designated hitter.
In the current rules of the MLB, however, it's competitively smarter to make certain Sano isn't wearing a Twins uniform March 31, when the Twins open the 2014 season against the Chicago White Sox.
The short explanation is that it could allow them to keep him for one season longer before he reaches free agency. With apologies to readers who already understand the process, I'd like to briefly outline why it makes financial sense to keep Sano in the minors to begin the 2014 season.
It has little to do with his chances for Major League success in April. It has much more to do with the Twins' playoff chances in 2014 and the current free agency climate.
The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in 2016, and calls for a progressive pay scale as players gain Major League experience.
In years 1-3, players often aren't paid much. In years four, five and six, a player can file for arbitration, with expected raises for each additional year of Major League experience. One subset of arbitration-eligible players complicates matters for clubs under the current rules: so-called "Super Twos."
What's a Super Two?
Start with the set of players who have two years of Major League experience but not yet three. Rank those players in descending order of service time and take the top 22 percent. Those players in the top 22 percent of service time among two-year players have achieved "Super Two" status, and are eligible to file for arbitration a year early. Those players start getting paid closer to market value one year sooner than their peers.
They reach free agency at the same time, but they have four years of arbitration raises, instead of just three.
To prevent Sano from becoming a Super Two, the Twins would be wise, and would save money by not promoting Sano until July. That way they effectively get 6 1/2 seasons of service from Sano before he can hit the open market, and they avoid having to pay a fourth arbitration raise.
If the Twins expected to be in the playoff hunt in 2014, they'd have to decide if the extra money that comes with one extra arbitration raise is worth the upgrade from Trevor Plouffe to Miguel Sano. Given how unlikely it is the Twins will be competitive in September, they won't have to make that decision.
They should, however, make the unpopular decision to break camp without Miguel Sano.
He won't become a free agent until after the 2020 season. That's a long competitive window, even if Sano and his agent, Rob Plummer, intend to pursue free agency after six full seasons.
Is it silly that the Twins should have to make competitive decisions based on somewhat arbitrary service time markers?
Yeah, but to paraphrase a classic saying, don't hate the player or the game.
Sano, his agent and the Twins all should act in self-interest. For the Twins, that means waiting until midseason to promote the third baseman, even if they deem in Fort Myers he's ready to hit Major League pitching and field grounders.