If you've been reading the forums lately, you might think the title of this post and its author (me) are incompatible. And you might be right -- I have been rather prolific in my posts advocating the Twins sign Yu Darvish and, more recently, critical of the Twins offer in the wake of the Cubs deal. Here is a sampling (and feel free to post any questions or comments about these linked posts right here in this new thread too):
What were the odds of the Twins offer actually being successful?
What were the risks of a larger offer, relative to the offer they made?
Would the Cubs have simply outbid us, regardless of the size of our offer?
But while I am disappointed in the process and the outcome, I still sought to understand it all better. Many other posters have offered explanations, some of which were probably pretty good but still left my mind unsatisfied for some reason. So I endeavored to explain it to myself.
What's the defense?
Interestingly, my chief defense of the Twins offer can be derived from a joke about an earlier post title -- "Twins Give Darvish a Formal Offer", where I noted that "prom proposal" could be considered a synonym for "formal offer." Consider this a variation on the theory "what if Darvish just didn't want to come here", but with a Valentine's Day twist. How does a person respond to romantic inquiries/hints/advances when they just aren't interested? They often don't sever all contact or even give a definite "no", but rather they leave more subtle hints of disinterest, likely while still trying to maintain a friendly relationship.
What if Darvish did that to the Twins? What if Darvish responded generically to the Twins overtures, to prop up his market with their theoretical pursuit, but at the same time not giving them any specific parameters with which to construct a deal to his liking? How would that sound? "I don't know yet, check back later." "I'm really just waiting to see how the market develops." "Don't call us, we'll call you."
While at the same time, he could be engaging in more detail with the Cubs (and Dodgers, Rangers, etc.). Even if the Twins knew from indirect sources that Darvish wanted 6 years, and wasn't backing down too far on AAV despite the slow market, it's not the same as hearing it from the source. The Twins would likely pick up on the disinterest directed toward them. But the Twins have reasons for not completely moving on, or publicly disclosing that either -- chiefly, negotiations with other players and teams (in trade).
And ultimately, knowing Darvish's disinterest could affect the Twins' ability and willingness to put forth a competitive offer for him. Nobody wants to be the person (I hope) to rent a skywriter for a prom proposal directed toward a known disinterested subject. Even if you commit more money/resources to your offer than others, and your offer somehow "wins", there could be the distinct feeling that it was forced upon the subject, leading to an uncomfortable relationship ahead. If Darvish simply wanted to play in Chicago for 6/126 plus incentives and an opt out, there might be some resentment toward us for "not taking the hints" and offering a marginally larger guarantee, putting Darvish in a difficult position with his union and his agent whose financial interests could then be in conflict with Darvish's personal preferences. We remember the "players don't want to come here" mantra, and Dave St. Peter's response that money is all that matters -- a seeming contradiction, but in a way, both are true and the Twins likely have to find a balance (as they sought for many years between "the Metrodome is a dump" and "come on out to watch your Twins!").
So does this absolve the Twins?
Not necessarily -- maybe not even close. It's quite possible that any disinterest was not pre-existing, but rather borne out of early conversations between Darvish and the club. There is certainly evidence to suggest this -- if the Twins expressed to Darvish the same reticence privately as they did publicly about the 5th/6th years or the opt out clause, and offered no indications about making up the difference with a big AAV, Darvish and his agent may have simply concluded it wasn't worth their time to engage with the Twins any further. Maybe it wasn't anything personal -- other than LA (who didn't win the bidding either), there didn't seem to be any reports about Darvish preferring any particular destination. Darvish has no notable connection to Chicago or its staff (excepting potential backup catcher Gimenez), and frankly there are more day-to-day similarities than differences between playing your home games at Target Field or at Wrigley Field, once you have reached the highest level of professional baseball. And while he may have been motivated by the Cubs' resources and willingness to deploy them, leading to greater postseason and World Series chances, it's also quite possible he simply saw them as the only realistic option for meeting his demands and prioritized his focus accordingly. And that would have been quite likely correct. Even if the Twins privately had some willingness to negotiate around a 6th year or opt out or even higher guarantees, it's not Darvish's responsibility to tease that out of them.
Further, even if Darvish had a pre-existing disinterest in the Twins, it's not the job of the front office to simply deliver contract offers to willing players. Part of their duties is selling, recruiting, convincing -- not just free agents, but ownership and fans too. I'm sure the new front office would say they are gradually working toward that end, although their moves to date certainly suggest a mixed bag. (And taking a too-conservative approach to negotiations with Darvish would have in itself reinforced some negative preconceptions about our commitment to winning.) Maybe they are still working under the shadow of the previous regime, although Levine's prior relationship to Darvish would suggest that he could perhaps sell a new vision for Minnesota in this situation better than most others.
What does this all mean?
All told, I'm still not pleased with the Twins here. No matter how you slice it, they seem to bear a good portion of responsibility for the outcome as it stands today -- whether it's the too-conservative terms of their approach or offer, failing to create or communicate an environment where their commitment to winning is clear and unquestionable, maybe just overselling their interest with Levine's "priority" comment back in November, or even just the lack of success so far at securing a plan B alternative. And understand I'm not a person who advocates for the Twins to pursue every top free agent, and who criticizes them every time that doesn't happen -- I understand the realities of MLB market and payroll disparities. But I do expect the Twins should be able to not only pursue an occasional top free agent, but actually land one from time to time under the right conditions -- and the conditions this offseason around Darvish were riper for that opportunity than any top FA since the opening of Target Field, and looking ahead, they might be the best for the next 5-6 years too, at least.
That said, I'm not giving up on them or their season. I'm committed to my Twins (perhaps for many of the same frugal financial factors which they apply to free agency -- no greater joy than taking in a ballgame from the cheap seats or on the radio!). And I hope they have a good plan B and can get it done rather quickly so it doesn't affect their spring training -- and so my mind can finally move on from all this unnecessary Darvish analysis!