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  1. Pitching this season at 32, Sonny Gray is putting up among the best seasons of his 10-year big league career. Gray is in the final year of a four-year deal but carries a team option for 2023 at $12 million. Given his abilities and relative health, that should be a no-brainer to exercise for Minnesota. Gray has spent a couple of stints on the injured list this season, but he’s still made nine starts to the tune of a 2.53 ERA with a 9.7 K/9. Gray has never had a lower walk rate during his career, and this is as infrequent as he’s ever been allowing the longball. Having pitched recently in parks like Cincinnati and New York, finding a better fit in Minnesota has to have felt wonderful. On the process side of things, it appears Gray is learning to use somewhat of a different repertoire with the Twins. His fastball velocity is down to 92.1 mph, a career low, but he’s upped his slider usage and paired both with a solid curveball. Gray is experiencing a career best chase rate and he’s largely worked around damage. Nine games is far too small of a sample size to suggest Gray is going to continue this output for the rest of the season, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction for a longer term marriage with the Twins if he wants to explore that. Looking at 34 following the team option, Gray’s likelihood for a long-term deal on the open market decreases substantially. Should he choose to lock something up now, a four year deal with Minnesota, tacking on an additional three, would potentially take him through the end of his career. Right now Gray is slated to make $12 million from Minnesota in 2023 if they so choose. Over the course of his current deal Gray has averaged $9.5 million annually. A season ago this Twins front office paid a 38-year-old J.A. Happ $8 million to top out their free agent pitching, and this season Dylan Bundy was given $5 million coming off a 6.06 ERA in 2021. I don’t know if the Twins need to go to $12 million annually on an extension, but that hardly seems egregious either. A 29-year-old Eduardo Rodriguez was paid $15.4 million over five years by the Detroit Tigers this offseason, and a 30-year-old Jon Gray got $14 million over four years from the Texas Rangers. Gray is arguably the better pitcher among that group, but he’s also roughly three years their senior. Both Steven Matz and Yusei Kikuchi got multi-year deals at $11 and $12 million annually respectively, but they too are roughly two years younger than that of Gray. Tyler Anderson is 32 years old and got $8 million from the Dodgers, but only on a one-year pact. There are plenty of guys in that age range that saw similar paydays with no guarantee of longevity. I think for Minnesota, and Gray, the duration may be a worthwhile tradeoff. For Minnesota, I think landing somewhere between Kikuchi and Matz over four years (starting in 2023) would be a worthwhile premise. That’d put Gray at between $11-12 million annually and $44-48 million over the course of his contract. Paying him that sum through age 36 seems to avoid much of the risk as he surpasses that age as well. As a guy who’s not velocity reliant and is very meticulous about his training regimen, there should be an ample amount of belief that he ages gracefully. Maybe the Twins ultimately don’t want to commit to Gray for the long term and they’re happy with him just being around in 2023. If not, these parameters seem like a good place to start. What do you think, are you paying $44-48 million for four more years of Sonny Gray?
  2. The Minnesota Twins needed to acquire starting pitching this offseason and largely overlooked the free agent market. In making a deal with the Cincinnati Reds, Minnesota landed a guy in Sonny Gray that they hoped would be an ace. So far it’s looked like a perfect fit. How do they keep him moving forward? Pitching this season at 32, Sonny Gray is putting up among the best seasons of his 10-year big league career. Gray is in the final year of a four-year deal but carries a team option for 2023 at $12 million. Given his abilities and relative health, that should be a no-brainer to exercise for Minnesota. Gray has spent a couple of stints on the injured list this season, but he’s still made nine starts to the tune of a 2.53 ERA with a 9.7 K/9. Gray has never had a lower walk rate during his career, and this is as infrequent as he’s ever been allowing the longball. Having pitched recently in parks like Cincinnati and New York, finding a better fit in Minnesota has to have felt wonderful. On the process side of things, it appears Gray is learning to use somewhat of a different repertoire with the Twins. His fastball velocity is down to 92.1 mph, a career low, but he’s upped his slider usage and paired both with a solid curveball. Gray is experiencing a career best chase rate and he’s largely worked around damage. Nine games is far too small of a sample size to suggest Gray is going to continue this output for the rest of the season, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction for a longer term marriage with the Twins if he wants to explore that. Looking at 34 following the team option, Gray’s likelihood for a long-term deal on the open market decreases substantially. Should he choose to lock something up now, a four year deal with Minnesota, tacking on an additional three, would potentially take him through the end of his career. Right now Gray is slated to make $12 million from Minnesota in 2023 if they so choose. Over the course of his current deal Gray has averaged $9.5 million annually. A season ago this Twins front office paid a 38-year-old J.A. Happ $8 million to top out their free agent pitching, and this season Dylan Bundy was given $5 million coming off a 6.06 ERA in 2021. I don’t know if the Twins need to go to $12 million annually on an extension, but that hardly seems egregious either. A 29-year-old Eduardo Rodriguez was paid $15.4 million over five years by the Detroit Tigers this offseason, and a 30-year-old Jon Gray got $14 million over four years from the Texas Rangers. Gray is arguably the better pitcher among that group, but he’s also roughly three years their senior. Both Steven Matz and Yusei Kikuchi got multi-year deals at $11 and $12 million annually respectively, but they too are roughly two years younger than that of Gray. Tyler Anderson is 32 years old and got $8 million from the Dodgers, but only on a one-year pact. There are plenty of guys in that age range that saw similar paydays with no guarantee of longevity. I think for Minnesota, and Gray, the duration may be a worthwhile tradeoff. For Minnesota, I think landing somewhere between Kikuchi and Matz over four years (starting in 2023) would be a worthwhile premise. That’d put Gray at between $11-12 million annually and $44-48 million over the course of his contract. Paying him that sum through age 36 seems to avoid much of the risk as he surpasses that age as well. As a guy who’s not velocity reliant and is very meticulous about his training regimen, there should be an ample amount of belief that he ages gracefully. Maybe the Twins ultimately don’t want to commit to Gray for the long term and they’re happy with him just being around in 2023. If not, these parameters seem like a good place to start. What do you think, are you paying $44-48 million for four more years of Sonny Gray? View full article
  3. The Twins have a lot to sort out when free agency reopens, but they need to establish a base to their offseason after failing to do so before the lockout. Three moves in particular would go a long way in improving the roster across the board and could be the beginning of a return to contention. Sign Yusei Kikuchi to a 2 year, $25m deal Kikuchi isn’t necessarily the best pitcher left in free agency, but the left-hander would make a great addition to the Twins rotation. At 30 years old, Kikuchi hasn’t been all that good in his three years in the league with over 350 innings and an ERA around 5.00. The lefty has obvious talent, however, averaging over 95mph on the fastball in 2021 with a wicked slider that resulted in dominant stretches. Kikuchi wouldn’t break the bank and has number 2-3 upside, but even as is he would go a long way in rehabbing a pitching needy roster. Striking out a batter per inning with a mid 4s ERA as he did in 2021 would slot in just fine, and coming near the 160 innings he’s averaged in his career would make a huge impact on a rotation that expects some young additions during the season. Even if there isn’t a tweak to be made, Kikuchi is the type of pitcher the Twins should be throwing money at for multiple years. Sign Richard Rodriguez to a 1 year, $3m deal I’ve long wanted to see Richard Rodriguez in a Twins jersey. It turned out paying up would have been a mistake, as Rodriguez turned into a bit of a pumpkin in 2021. His strikeout rate dropped by an incredible 20% despite nearly identical velocities year over year. The former Pirate’s closer lost effectiveness with his slider which led to his being non-tendered after a trade to Atlanta. He did still manage a sub 3.00 ERA, however. Relievers are volatile, but Rodriguez has shown no physical red flags at 31 years old which makes you wonder whether there’s just a small adjustment to make to his once dominant breaking ball. It would be a similar deal to what the Twins gave Hansel Robles in 2021, although Rodriguez is coming off a year where he was still a useful reliever. The right-hander was quietly one of the better closers in baseball in 2020 and could help lead a bullpen that will see several young arms debut and battle for jobs. Sign Trevor Story for to a 4 year, $92m deal The game of musical chairs is coming to an end in the free agent shortstop market, and Story may run out of options. With less leverage, Story shouldn’t need the 5+ year deals we’ve seen this offseason that the Twins are unlikely to sign. Still just 29, the Twins would still get Story in the prime of his career. Without a clear-cut shortstop on the way, Story would fill this historically problematic position for the foreseeable future rather than kicking the can down the road with another one year Andrelton Simmons type. In what was certainly a down year in 2021, Story still accumulated 3.5 Wins Above Replacement, which would have been third in Minnesota behind Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco. He’s still always capable of a 30 home run, 30 steal season with a respectable on base ability and never having hit below .250. The right-handed slugger would be a huge addition to the already great lineup. Adding such a big bat would make the trade of another established hitter for pitching much easier to swallow. The Twins have much more work to do than just three moves, but these three in particular offer a good amount of floor as well as a ton of upside. The bullpen and offense/defense would considerably improve, and the hole in the rotation would shrink by adding an arm that could have a surprising payoff. As we all get fed up with the lockout that has no end in sight, there’s little left to do but dream on the flurry of moves that will absolutely follow. Are there any moves you’d like to see the Twins prioritize? Let us know below! — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email — Follow Cody Pirkl on Twitter here View full article
  4. Sign Yusei Kikuchi to a 2 year, $25m deal Kikuchi isn’t necessarily the best pitcher left in free agency, but the left-hander would make a great addition to the Twins rotation. At 30 years old, Kikuchi hasn’t been all that good in his three years in the league with over 350 innings and an ERA around 5.00. The lefty has obvious talent, however, averaging over 95mph on the fastball in 2021 with a wicked slider that resulted in dominant stretches. Kikuchi wouldn’t break the bank and has number 2-3 upside, but even as is he would go a long way in rehabbing a pitching needy roster. Striking out a batter per inning with a mid 4s ERA as he did in 2021 would slot in just fine, and coming near the 160 innings he’s averaged in his career would make a huge impact on a rotation that expects some young additions during the season. Even if there isn’t a tweak to be made, Kikuchi is the type of pitcher the Twins should be throwing money at for multiple years. Sign Richard Rodriguez to a 1 year, $3m deal I’ve long wanted to see Richard Rodriguez in a Twins jersey. It turned out paying up would have been a mistake, as Rodriguez turned into a bit of a pumpkin in 2021. His strikeout rate dropped by an incredible 20% despite nearly identical velocities year over year. The former Pirate’s closer lost effectiveness with his slider which led to his being non-tendered after a trade to Atlanta. He did still manage a sub 3.00 ERA, however. Relievers are volatile, but Rodriguez has shown no physical red flags at 31 years old which makes you wonder whether there’s just a small adjustment to make to his once dominant breaking ball. It would be a similar deal to what the Twins gave Hansel Robles in 2021, although Rodriguez is coming off a year where he was still a useful reliever. The right-hander was quietly one of the better closers in baseball in 2020 and could help lead a bullpen that will see several young arms debut and battle for jobs. Sign Trevor Story for to a 4 year, $92m deal The game of musical chairs is coming to an end in the free agent shortstop market, and Story may run out of options. With less leverage, Story shouldn’t need the 5+ year deals we’ve seen this offseason that the Twins are unlikely to sign. Still just 29, the Twins would still get Story in the prime of his career. Without a clear-cut shortstop on the way, Story would fill this historically problematic position for the foreseeable future rather than kicking the can down the road with another one year Andrelton Simmons type. In what was certainly a down year in 2021, Story still accumulated 3.5 Wins Above Replacement, which would have been third in Minnesota behind Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco. He’s still always capable of a 30 home run, 30 steal season with a respectable on base ability and never having hit below .250. The right-handed slugger would be a huge addition to the already great lineup. Adding such a big bat would make the trade of another established hitter for pitching much easier to swallow. The Twins have much more work to do than just three moves, but these three in particular offer a good amount of floor as well as a ton of upside. The bullpen and offense/defense would considerably improve, and the hole in the rotation would shrink by adding an arm that could have a surprising payoff. As we all get fed up with the lockout that has no end in sight, there’s little left to do but dream on the flurry of moves that will absolutely follow. Are there any moves you’d like to see the Twins prioritize? Let us know below! — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email — Follow Cody Pirkl on Twitter here
  5. There has been a flurry of free-agent signings with the looming lockout. Let’s revisit the top-five remaining free-agent starting pitcher options for the Twins. Minnesota’s current rotation is expected to include Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan. Other rotational options include Randy Dobnak, Griffin Jax, and Lewis Thorpe. Some of the team’s top prospects are also on the 40-man roster, including Jordan Balazovic, Cole Sands, Drew Strotman, Chis Vallimont, and Josh Winder. Each of the players below is still available with the looming lockout on the horizon. Included with each player is his projected salary, according to the Twins Daily Offseason Handbook. 5. RHP Michael Pineda TD Offseason Handbook Prediction: $8 million/season Twins fans are well familiar with Pineda, and he likely won’t get the fanbase excited about what he can bring to the rotation. He seems like an excellent candidate to be the team’s number three starter, but that would mean the Twins need to acquire two other arms to put ahead of him in the rotation. Pineda is a known quantity, and he has been a strong veteran presence during his time in Minnesota. He can add rotational depth, but he can’t be the team’s only offseason move. 4. LHP Yusei Kikuchi TD Offseason Handbook Prediction: $15 million/season Kikuchi was an All-Star last season, but he struggled mightily in the second half with an ERA close to 6.00. He surrendered the hardest average exit velocity in baseball last season because he leaves too many pitches over the middle of the plate. He will be a project for any team that signs him, but he’s left-handed and has a three-pitch mix, so that’s intriguing. 3. LHP Clayton Kershaw TD Offseason Handbook Prediction: $18 million/season Kershaw is a future inner-circle Hall of Fame member, so it seems unlikely for him to sign with a Twins team coming off a last-place finish. In the twilight of his career, Kershaw can pick the right destination for him and his family. That destination won’t be in Minnesota. 2. LHP Carlos Rodon TD Offseason Handbook Prediction: $18 million/season Earlier this week, KSTP reported that the Twins were taking a serious run at Carlos Rodon, an intriguing name. He was one of the American League’s best starters last season, but shoulder issues kept him out near the season’s end. Another item to consider is the White Sox didn’t make him a qualifying offer. Chicago knows Rodon’s health better than anyone, and they may believe his injury will continue to linger. 1. RHP Marcus Stroman TD Offseason Handbook Prediction: $20 million/season Stroman is one of the last men standing out of the tier one starting pitchers. Twins fans may be suspicious of another pitch-to-contact arm at the top of the team’s rotation. He doesn’t have some of the injury question marks surrounding some of the other top names on this list. Also, his market is likely more extensive than the beginning of the offseason because the supply of top-tier pitchers is running low. Stroman seems like an excellent fit for the Twins, but will they outbid other teams to get an ace. There isn’t much left on the shelf for the Twins to spend money on this winter. Likely, this points to the team needing to make multiple trades to fill numerous rotation spots. Do you think the Twins will be able to add any of these starters? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email View full article
  6. Minnesota’s current rotation is expected to include Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan. Other rotational options include Randy Dobnak, Griffin Jax, and Lewis Thorpe. Some of the team’s top prospects are also on the 40-man roster, including Jordan Balazovic, Cole Sands, Drew Strotman, Chis Vallimont, and Josh Winder. Each of the players below is still available with the looming lockout on the horizon. Included with each player is his projected salary, according to the Twins Daily Offseason Handbook. 5. RHP Michael Pineda TD Offseason Handbook Prediction: $8 million/season Twins fans are well familiar with Pineda, and he likely won’t get the fanbase excited about what he can bring to the rotation. He seems like an excellent candidate to be the team’s number three starter, but that would mean the Twins need to acquire two other arms to put ahead of him in the rotation. Pineda is a known quantity, and he has been a strong veteran presence during his time in Minnesota. He can add rotational depth, but he can’t be the team’s only offseason move. 4. LHP Yusei Kikuchi TD Offseason Handbook Prediction: $15 million/season Kikuchi was an All-Star last season, but he struggled mightily in the second half with an ERA close to 6.00. He surrendered the hardest average exit velocity in baseball last season because he leaves too many pitches over the middle of the plate. He will be a project for any team that signs him, but he’s left-handed and has a three-pitch mix, so that’s intriguing. 3. LHP Clayton Kershaw TD Offseason Handbook Prediction: $18 million/season Kershaw is a future inner-circle Hall of Fame member, so it seems unlikely for him to sign with a Twins team coming off a last-place finish. In the twilight of his career, Kershaw can pick the right destination for him and his family. That destination won’t be in Minnesota. 2. LHP Carlos Rodon TD Offseason Handbook Prediction: $18 million/season Earlier this week, KSTP reported that the Twins were taking a serious run at Carlos Rodon, an intriguing name. He was one of the American League’s best starters last season, but shoulder issues kept him out near the season’s end. Another item to consider is the White Sox didn’t make him a qualifying offer. Chicago knows Rodon’s health better than anyone, and they may believe his injury will continue to linger. 1. RHP Marcus Stroman TD Offseason Handbook Prediction: $20 million/season Stroman is one of the last men standing out of the tier one starting pitchers. Twins fans may be suspicious of another pitch-to-contact arm at the top of the team’s rotation. He doesn’t have some of the injury question marks surrounding some of the other top names on this list. Also, his market is likely more extensive than the beginning of the offseason because the supply of top-tier pitchers is running low. Stroman seems like an excellent fit for the Twins, but will they outbid other teams to get an ace. There isn’t much left on the shelf for the Twins to spend money on this winter. Likely, this points to the team needing to make multiple trades to fill numerous rotation spots. Do you think the Twins will be able to add any of these starters? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  7. Back in 2009, Kikuchi was a prep phenom for Hanamaki Higashi HS, touching the mid-90s with his fastball as a teenager. As he nearly became the first Japanese player ever to bypass the NPB draft and enter MLB directly out of high school, one of the teams courting him was the Texas Rangers, reportedly offering $7 million. Thad Levine was assistant general manager for the Rangers as they ardently pursued Kikuchi, who opted to remain in Japan at the time. He was also their assistant GM a few years later when they pulled off the landmark Yu Darvish signing. Levine was Minnesota's GM last offseason when Ohtani – a generational two-way talent out of Japan – became available. At the time, Levine made no secret of his desire to land Ohtani, but his Twins didn't make the final cut. Ohtani ended up having a sensational rookie season for the Angels. Now, we turn our attention to Kikuchi. Let's be clear: Ohtani he is not (though they did attend the high school). Kikuchi's upside doesn't approach that of Ohtani as a pitcher, and hitting isn't even part of the equation. But the 27-year-old lefty offers a quality arm that would fit snugly within Minnesota's long-term strategy. "VERY INTERESTED" La Velle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune tweeted on Friday that the Twins "like Kikuchi and have done a deep dive on him." A day later, the perpetually plugged in Darren Wolfson of KSTP added that the team is "very interested," and that Kikuchi has been scouted extensively by some of the organization's top evaluators. It isn't hard to see why Kikuchi would be of great interest to the Twins. First of all, they have plenty of money to spend. Secondly, they could use another starter – ideally a younger one who can pair with Jose Berrios as entrenched rotation fixtures. There is much to like about Kikuchi, who owns a 2.81 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in around 1,000 NPB innings. While it's tempting to draw up glitzy Ohtani comparisons, the more plausible comp is right-hander Miles Mikolas. Mikolas was a former seventh-round draft pick of the Padres who headed to Japan to re-establish himself after washing out of affiliated ball in his mid-20s. During his time with the Yomiuri Giants, he posted numbers that were similar in many ways to Kikuchi with the Saitama Seibu Lions – very strong, but not out-of-this-world overpowering or dominant. Last winter, Mikolas sought to return to the majors at age 28. The Cardinals signed him to a two-year deal worth $15.5 million, and boy has that investment paid off. Mikolas was phenomenal in 2018, finishing 18-4 with a 2.38 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 200 innings. He finished sixth in the NL Cy Young voting. The two aren't mirror images by any means. Mikolas has superior command, which was his calling card during a stellar reintroduction to the majors. But Kikuchi probably has the better repertoire, highlighted by a swing-and-miss slider. And he's a lefty. Mikolas is an encouraging precedent, both in terms of process and results. The Cards were able to add him cheaply, because of the inherent question marks in translating performance from a foreign league, but he was more than up to the task. Kikuchi will require more to sign than Mikolas, but he'll still be far cheaper than, say, Patrick Corbin (who is incidentally a pretty similar pitcher in the FB/SL southpaw mold). UPHILL BATTLE So the Twins are interested in Kikuchi. Why wouldn't they be? But this brings us to the core issue at hand: so is almost every other team in the majors. And as was the case with Ohtani, the Twins only have so much capacity in their efforts to woo him. Granted, this isn't nearly the same type of scenario that led to Los Angeles committing just $23 million last year to acquire Ohtani, who potential earnings were capped. Changes in the posting system, along with Kikuchi's heightened service time, mean that he'll be an unrestricted free agent in the traditional sense, with the Saitama Seibu Lions receiving a percentage of his eventual contract as a release fee. This actually works to the Twins' benefit. Going against big-market clubs and West Coast teams, they have some built-in disadvantages when it comes to recruiting talent out of Asia, before you even start talking about budget and resources. This ultimately doomed them in their pursuit of Ohtani. But with money being more of a differentiating factor, they have leverage to negotiate. If Minnesota's extensive scouting has created a strong confidence in Kikuchi's outlook, there's no reason the Twins can't hang with any other team in the bidding. They're still about $50 million short of matching their 2018 Opening Day payroll at present. But are they going to be able to outbid and outpitch every other big slugger in this race? The Yankees are known to be interested, and may be motivated after coming up short on Corbin. Kikuchi has been linked to the Padres, Dodgers and Mariners. Giants reporter Henry Schulman reported earlier this month that San Francisco "might be his first choice." https://twitter.com/hankschulman/status/1071938861457059840 Here's one wild card in this whole situation: Kikuchi is represented by Scott Boras. In one sense that's scary, since Boras is a notoriously tough negotiator and is known for brokering some of the biggest contracts in MLB history. But on the other hand, Boras also reps two of Minnesota's most integral long-term pieces: Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff. Those two would hopefully slot in alongside Kikuchi within the next few years. Is this advantageous in any way? I have no clue. But it's at least interesting to note. THE CLOCK IS TICKING Kikuchi was posted by the Seibu Lions on December 4th, and his 30-day window for open negotiations will end on January 2nd, so we'll have clarity on the lefty's future within 10 days. La Velle noted, in his tweet on the team's interest, that the Twins "think they won’t be one of the favorites to land him," which is unsurprising. But by all accounts, it looks like they are earnestly trying. If the money is there, and Kikuchi buys into Minnesota's vision of a perennial contender at Target Field fueled by fellow Boras clients Lewis and Kirilloff? Who knows. One thing's for sure: It'd be the kind of splashy addition this fan base could use.
  8. For a second consecutive offseason, the Minnesota Twins appear legitimately interested in the top available talent from Japan. And for a second consecutive offseason, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that player will wind up elsewhere. But perhaps Minnesota will be luckier with Yusei Kikuchi than they were a year ago with Shohei Ohtani. If they can find a way to land the prized left-hander, it'd be a game-changer in their efforts to bolster the pitching staff.Back in 2009, Kikuchi was a prep phenom for Hanamaki Higashi HS, touching the mid-90s with his fastball as a teenager. As he nearly became the first Japanese player ever to bypass the NPB draft and enter MLB directly out of high school, one of the teams courting him was the Texas Rangers, reportedly offering $7 million. Thad Levine was assistant general manager for the Rangers as they ardently pursued Kikuchi, who opted to remain in Japan at the time. He was also their assistant GM a few years later when they pulled off the landmark Yu Darvish signing. Levine was Minnesota's GM last offseason when Ohtani – a generational two-way talent out of Japan – became available. At the time, Levine made no secret of his desire to land Ohtani, but his Twins didn't make the final cut. Ohtani ended up having a sensational rookie season for the Angels. Now, we turn our attention to Kikuchi. Let's be clear: Ohtani he is not (though they did attend the high school). Kikuchi's upside doesn't approach that of Ohtani as a pitcher, and hitting isn't even part of the equation. But the 27-year-old lefty offers a quality arm that would fit snugly within Minnesota's long-term strategy. "VERY INTERESTED" La Velle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune tweeted on Friday that the Twins "like Kikuchi and have done a deep dive on him." A day later, the perpetually plugged in Darren Wolfson of KSTP added that the team is "very interested," and that Kikuchi has been scouted extensively by some of the organization's top evaluators. It isn't hard to see why Kikuchi would be of great interest to the Twins. First of all, they have plenty of money to spend. Secondly, they could use another starter – ideally a younger one who can pair with Jose Berrios as entrenched rotation fixtures. There is much to like about Kikuchi, who owns a 2.81 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in around 1,000 NPB innings. While it's tempting to draw up glitzy Ohtani comparisons, the more plausible comp is right-hander Miles Mikolas. Mikolas was a former seventh-round draft pick of the Padres who headed to Japan to re-establish himself after washing out of affiliated ball in his mid-20s. During his time with the Yomiuri Giants, he posted numbers that were similar in many ways to Kikuchi with the Saitama Seibu Lions – very strong, but not out-of-this-world overpowering or dominant. Last winter, Mikolas sought to return to the majors at age 28. The Cardinals signed him to a two-year deal worth $15.5 million, and boy has that investment paid off. Mikolas was phenomenal in 2018, finishing 18-4 with a 2.38 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 200 innings. He finished sixth in the NL Cy Young voting. The two aren't mirror images by any means. Mikolas has superior command, which was his calling card during a stellar reintroduction to the majors. But Kikuchi probably has the better repertoire, highlighted by a swing-and-miss slider. And he's a lefty. Mikolas is an encouraging precedent, both in terms of process and results. The Cards were able to add him cheaply, because of the inherent question marks in translating performance from a foreign league, but he was more than up to the task. Kikuchi will require more to sign than Mikolas, but he'll still be far cheaper than, say, Patrick Corbin (who is incidentally a pretty similar pitcher in the FB/SL southpaw mold). UPHILL BATTLE So the Twins are interested in Kikuchi. Why wouldn't they be? But this brings us to the core issue at hand: so is almost every other team in the majors. And as was the case with Ohtani, the Twins only have so much capacity in their efforts to woo him. Granted, this isn't nearly the same type of scenario that led to Los Angeles committing just $23 million last year to acquire Ohtani, who potential earnings were capped. Changes in the posting system, along with Kikuchi's heightened service time, mean that he'll be an unrestricted free agent in the traditional sense, with the Saitama Seibu Lions receiving a percentage of his eventual contract as a release fee. This actually works to the Twins' benefit. Going against big-market clubs and West Coast teams, they have some built-in disadvantages when it comes to recruiting talent out of Asia, before you even start talking about budget and resources. This ultimately doomed them in their pursuit of Ohtani. But with money being more of a differentiating factor, they have leverage to negotiate. If Minnesota's extensive scouting has created a strong confidence in Kikuchi's outlook, there's no reason the Twins can't hang with any other team in the bidding. They're still about $50 million short of matching their 2018 Opening Day payroll at present. But are they going to be able to outbid and outpitch every other big slugger in this race? The Yankees are known to be interested, and may be motivated after coming up short on Corbin. Kikuchi has been linked to the Padres, Dodgers and Mariners. Giants reporter Henry Schulman reported earlier this month that San Francisco "might be his first choice." Here's one wild card in this whole situation: Kikuchi is represented by Scott Boras. In one sense that's scary, since Boras is a notoriously tough negotiator and is known for brokering some of the biggest contracts in MLB history. But on the other hand, Boras also reps two of Minnesota's most integral long-term pieces: Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff. Those two would hopefully slot in alongside Kikuchi within the next few years. Is this advantageous in any way? I have no clue. But it's at least interesting to note. THE CLOCK IS TICKING Kikuchi was posted by the Seibu Lions on December 4th, and his 30-day window for open negotiations will end on January 2nd, so we'll have clarity on the lefty's future within 10 days. La Velle noted, in his tweet on the team's interest, that the Twins "think they won’t be one of the favorites to land him," which is unsurprising. But by all accounts, it looks like they are earnestly trying. If the money is there, and Kikuchi buys into Minnesota's vision of a perennial contender at Target Field fueled by fellow Boras clients Lewis and Kirilloff? Who knows. One thing's for sure: It'd be the kind of splashy addition this fan base could use. Click here to view the article
  9. As expected, the Seibu Lions have posted left-handed starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi. I wondered aloud on Twitter if the Twins would have interest in the 27-year-old, and Darren Wolfson of KSTP was kind enough to confirm that the team has scouted him pretty extensively. Obviously that doesn't necessarily mean the Twins are serious suitors for Kikuchi, but it sounds like he's certainly on their radar. Yes, the international market can be a crap shoot, but to be fair you could say the same about free agency in general. MLB Trade Rumors had Kikcuhi as their No. 12 free agent available while FanGraphs has him at No. 14.
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