The Minnesota Twins are undoubtedly still in need of some form of starting rotation help as the 2018 season nears. After a record turnaround from 2016 to 2017 that included a playoff appearance, the Twins have no choice but to bury the “rebuilding” narrative utilized by so many teams nowadays. So far this offseason, the Twins have addressed bullpen needs by signing both closer Fernando Rodney and lefty Zach Duke to one year deals. But what can be done to solve the question of starting pitching?
While rumors have floated around connecting the Twins to many different players and names, one name that continues to float around is that of Yu Darvish. Darvish is coming off a strong 2017 season in which he compiled a 3.86 ERA with both the Rangers and Dodgers. Darvish’s season ultimately ended on a sour note in the World Series after a pair of disappointing outings for the Dodgers eventually led to a bitter loss to the Houston Astros. Some have speculated that Darvish may have in fact been tipping pitches during the World Series and that whatever issues led to his subpar performance are not a major concern amongst potential buyers this offseason. And the buyers are lining up so far. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Jeff Wilson, “five teams” have been in serious talks with Darvish, including the Twins.
This latest report comes as no surprise to some, as team personnel, including manager Paul Molitor, have been vocal about wanting to bring Darvish aboard. The Twins have an undeniable need for a true ace to anchor a pitching staff that features budding star Jose Berrios and 2017 All-Star Ervin Santana. Despite this, most public opinion seems to rule out the Twins from the Darvish sweepstakes as a byproduct of being a smaller market size than teams such as the Yankees or Dodgers, as well as the recent team history of not handing out large free agent contracts. But a strong argument can still be made for why the Twins may actually be the favorites for Darvish after all.
Despite the mainstream opinion that the Twins have no money to spend or won’t spend it, the reality is quite the opposite. The organization has tremendous payroll flexibility entering the next few seasons, as both Joe Mauer and Ervin Santana, the two highest salary players on the roster, will potentially be off the payroll in 2019. And while questions remain about potential extensions for young talent such as center fielder Byron Buxton, it appears upwards of $50 million may be cut from the payroll by 2020.
Such payroll flexibility works out perfectly with the early aggressiveness shown by front office duo Derek Falvey and Thad Levine in just over a year with the Twins. While major acquisitions and trades in previous years under former GM Terry Ryan often left fans with a sour taste in their mouths, including the signings of Korean baseball star Byung-ho Park and starter Ricky Nolasco to long term contracts, the new front office combo gives reason to believe that the team may be more involved in the top-tier free agent market than fans are used to. General Manager Thad Levine also has a bit of history with Darvish as the former assistant GM to Jon Daniels with the Texas Rangers and, rather conveniently, has been rumored to be pressing for other former Rangers standouts such as veteran DH/1B Mike Napoli as well. At least on the surface it appears that Yu Darvish is absolutely realistic for the Twins, as they may be able to outbid anyone due to low risk of exceeding the luxury tax threshold and the payroll drop-off after the 2018 season. The Twins should take full advantage of this rare opportunity, shock the bigger market competition, and do everything possible to lock up Darvish as their long-term ace before it’s too late.