What Happens if the Twins Can't Sign Yu Darvish?
Image courtesy of Jake Roth-USA TODAY SportsEvery team in baseball has to do a little re-tooling each offseason, but as it stands right now, the Twins will have a number of big decisions to make at the end of 2018. Joe Mauer, Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar are all due to become free agents while Ervin Santana has a $14 million option. It seems like an easy decision for the team to pick up that option today, but a lot can change in a year.
The front office has taken some small measures to shore things up beyond this year, signing Michael Pineda to a two-year deal and securing a modest 2019 team option in Fernando Rodney’s contract, but the fact remains that not much is certain beyond 2018. Who knows if Pineda can regain his old form, and even though Rodney’s in tremendous shape, it seems like you’re asking a lot to expect a guy to be a big contributor in what would be his age 42 season in 2019.
What I see right now is a team that is trying to give itself a chance in 2018, but one that is also falling behind other contenders in the American League. At the same time, they've done virtually nothing to increase their odds of improving beyond next season.
I think everybody (myself included) is hoping the team can land Yu Darvish, but would that move even make sense? It’s hard to answer that question. He certainly makes the team better, but how much would he really improve their chances of going deep into the playoffs? Is that worth giving him a potentially disastrous deal?
Even if it doesn’t make the most sense from a purely baseball operations standpoint, I believe that it would be in the team’s best interest to make a big splash. I've been thinking this for a long time now. But what happens if the Twins fail to land that big fish they're after?
If there’s one thing the Twins have, it’s flexibility. There is very little money tied up beyond next season, and the farm system is as healthy as it’s been in years. If the front office fails to sign Darvish or trade for a top-end pitcher who’s controllable for the future, then what? I figure they’ve got three options …
1. Lower their aim.
Darvish is an awfully high target. If the Twins can’t keep up with the competition, they could always turn to the other top-tier free agents that are still available: Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn. The same thing could be said about the trade market. If the Twins can’t land a big fish (Gerrit Cole and Chris Archer seem to be the two guys most talked about), they could pivot to pitchers in the next tier down like Jake Odorizzi and Dan Straily. Both of those guys have some future control (Odorizzi through 2020 and Straily 2021) and would help improve the depth of the rotation.
2. Go into sell mode.
They could always revisit the idea of trading Dozier, Ervin or whoever else has value for pieces who are more likely to help in 2019/20. This would obviously make the Twins worse in 2018, but is it inconceivable that they could still be competitive? There are plenty of infield variations the Twins could assemble between Jorge Polanco, Escobar, Ehire Adrianza and even Nick Gordon. They could add a veteran free agent on a one-year or minor league deal into that mix for added security.
In the rotation, maybe Trevor May could pick up the slack or they could catch lighting in a bottle with one of the rookies like Stephen Gonsalves or Fernando Romero. My point is I don’t think the Twins would be completely hopeless in 2018 without Dozier and/or Ervin. It would be a huge blow, and turn this upcoming season into more of a building year, but it’s likely the return in those trades could improve the outlook for the near future.
3. Keep building for 2018, but maintain future flexibility.
I hate the idea of staying in the middle ground, but this is actually starting to make a lot of sense to me. There are a lot of players rumored to be floating around on the trade market who will be free agents at this time next season. On the downside, those guys are only going to help you out in 2018. On the plus side, they’re not going to be nearly as costly to trade for as a guy like Cole or Archer. Which players am I talking about?
Pie In The Sky: Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado and Cole Hamels (who has an option for 2019).
More Realistic Targets: Andrew McCutchen, Nelson Cruz, Patrick Corbin, Brad Brach and Kelvin Herrera.
I’d have a really difficult time seeing the Twins pursuing any of those pie in the sky guys, but it’s always important to keep in mind that we still really don’t know this front office. What if asking prices drop and/or this group doesn’t value one of its prospects like the rest of the market does? It could happen, but let's move on to more realistic options.
Cutch and Cruz are both lefty killers and patient hitters who could really push this offense to the next level. You’d be potentially creating some playing time issues by adding one of these guys. Getting Cruz would certainly mean Robbie Grossman and/or Kennys Vargas would be gone and you’d be counting on Miguel Sano being able to play third base every day. McCutchen would allow for some more flexibility, making it possible to form some kind of a corner outfield/DH platoon.
The only left-handed starter penciled in to the Twins rotation at this point is Adalberto Mejia, so Corbin could help even things out in that regard. He’s also pretty good. Corbin posted a 4.08 FIP and 2.54 K:BB for Arizona last season. Those marks were better than Ervin, Cobb and Lynn all posted last season.
Brach has a 2.74 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 9.5 K/9 as a right-handed setup man for the Orioles over the past four years. They lost closer Zach Britton to an injury. On one hand, they may opt to keep Brach to fill that opening, but on the other hand, Baltimore’s chances at being competitive seem pretty bleak.
Herrera is coming off his worst year with the Royals, but he would represent a high-octane option for the Twins bullpen. Could moving him back into a setup role result in a return to form?
Adding these one-year commitment guys would cost you some mid-level prospects that would hurt the system. They would also create further havoc for next offseason, but if this front office is as good as a lot of us here think, they should be able to play jazz. Why can't they just make it up as they go every offseason?
Committing big money to aging players rarely works out. Plus, this plan builds in further flexibility. If the Twins got off to a bad start and were out of contention by the deadline, they’d have a bunch of the most attractive rental pieces to market. At the same time, if the young players like Gonsalves, Romero or any number of the relievers that are still in the system emerge, you've got some built-in turnover to create openings in 2019.
Assuming the Twins lose out on Yu Darvish, what should they do? Feel free to offer up any other options I haven't detailed here. I'm sure there are a lot more than three directions they could go.
- Cory Engelhardt, Sssuperdave, h2oface and 2 others like this