As the offseason continues, the Minnesota Twins will eventually make a free agent acquisition. While all of baseball appears at a standstill right now, dominoes will eventually begin to fall. Recently, Twins GM Thad Levine told MLB Network that the club is focused on both Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish. Although neither may happen, that suggests the club is in a good place.
In 2017, the Twins turned heads making the postseason as an Wild Card team. While the turnaround wasn't unexpected, winning as often as they did probably was a bit much to ask. The reality however, is that Minnesota did accumulate those wins, and the ship was righted as the youth continued to blossom. Arguably the greatest problem for the franchise in recent history has been pitching, and that didn't necessarily leap forward.
Coming in 19th across MLB in team ERA (and 19th among starters), pitching still left a lot to be desired. By FIP measures, Minnesota checked in at 25th, and that really highlights how pitching was addressed prior to 2017. The reality is that not much changed going into last year, but an improved defense and a much better defensive catcher made a significant impact. With the defense and catcher returning, it's now time to raise the water level on the mound as well.
The current free agent class leaves plenty to be desired in terms of pitching, and there will never be a time that quality arms come cheap. That being said, Levine's comments suggest Minnesota is putting their best foot forward. There's no denying that both Ohtani and Darvish are the two best available pitchers on the open market. Rather than aiming at the middle ground the Twins have targeted the cream of the crop. For Darvish, money will factor in significantly more than it will for the capped out Ohtani. Regardless, knowing that Minnesota can't possibly aim any higher than they already are is a good thing.
Regarding Ohtani first, Minnesota isn't going to have to shell out an extraordinary amount of dough. The spending is capped through the posting system, and for a guy turning down literal hundreds of millions a year from now to compete early, the fit in an organization seems to be much more enticing. Minnesota can offer him a young team on the rise, and a place that he could truly find himself as a superstar.
Coming to Darvish, cash is absolutely going to be king. While he may not choose the most lucrative offer, getting the former Rangers ace for anything less than $100 million simply isn't going to happen. His stumble in the World Series doesn't deflate his market, and the fact that he's bounced back from Tommy John surgery so nicely calms most of the injury concerns. Darvish is a true ace, with strikeout ability, and that's something the Twins have needed since the years of Johan Santana. Levine having a leg up here, working with him in Texas, definitely can't hurt the situation.
At the end of the day, the Twins may wind up being without either Darvish or Ohtani. Starting there though suggests a few things. First and foremost, they realize that starting pitching has to be a priority. The club has more than a few options to round out the rotation, but the reality is they are barren at the top. Ervin Santana isn't an ace, and is likely only going to decline. Jose Berrios could push for more, but that still leaves the club with just one shut down starter. Bringing in another arm one way or another is a good plan.
Also, the Twins aren't shying away from the top of the market. Now it could be all talk. but there's no uncertainty when it comes to the payday Darvish is going to land. If Minnesota wasn't interested in playing at that level, having discussions at all would seem to be a waste of time. The fact that there's been engagement suggests that there's a level of commitment financially to tighten things up on the mound.
Finally, starting at the top makes a level of settling a bit more manageable. If Minnesota can't land either Ohtani or Darvish, a step down to Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb is hardly a throwaway. While neither of those two guys are going to be an ace, they could slot in at Santana's level or higher, which helps the Twins as a whole. If the club started their search at the middle ground, adding a back end option as a fallback does little to actually fix anything.
Right now, teams and players seem to be playing a game of chicken. There's likely big numbers being thrown around, and it's going to be interesting to see who bites first. Once moves are made however, the expectation should be that they come in relative bunches. Commend the Twins for doing more than their due diligence, and being aware of the focus they should have. Although Ohtani and Darvish may not end up in Twins Territory, it's hardly a bad thing that they're being heavily discussed at this point in time.