February is right around the corner, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at a list of available MLB free agents. The market has developed at a snail’s pace this winter, which has fans and the media looking for answers. Some will point to the loaded free agent class of 2018. Many have suggested the analytics movement in baseball has turned teams away from big contracts. Yet others will suggest it’s merely the big-market clubs trying to stay under the luxury tax threshold.
Small-market clubs generally tend to avoid large contracts in free agency, and the Minnesota Twins have been no exception. The largest free agent contract in Twins history was the four-year $55 million deal given to Ervin Santana in 2014. However, this offseason the chatter has been different. CBO Derek Falvey, and GM Thad Levine have consistently linked the Twins to the top free-agent pitchers on the market this winter.
Yu Darvish specifically has been connected to the Twins throughout the offseason. Darvish is 31, and has been relatively durable throughout his professional career in both Japan and the United States. He gets strikeouts at a high rate, and most of the analytics make him look like an above average number No. 2 starter. This is exactly the profile the Yankees or Dodgers are usually willing to throw a seven-year deal at.
However, this offseason has been different, and it’s likely to stay that way. Some people still believe the big-market clubs will come swooping in with their bags of money and give guys like Darvish, Jake Arrieta, J.D. Martinez, and Eric Hosmer huge contracts. Super agent Scott Boras certainly thinks so. Boras, who represents both Arrieta and Hosmer, seems to be content waiting. Why shouldn’t he? He’s secured January mega-deals in the past for players like Max Scherzer and Prince Fielder. Boras may still get his deals, but it’s far from a sure thing.
Teams like the Twins stand to profit from this standoff if the big-market teams continue to waver. Players like Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain may end up taking one-year deals. Pitchers like Darvish and Arrieta may only end up getting five-year deals.
The Twins have a legitimate shot to land Darvish because of this weird situation. Don’t let the Terry Ryan haters fool you. The reason for the Twins interest in the top free-agent pitchers is not the new front office. Of course Levine’s relationship with Darvish has helped, but it’s not the sole reason they are pursing him. Lack of interest from the big-market clubs has allowed the Twins to be players in this equation. If Terry Ryan was still the GM it’s likely he would be doing the same thing. The Twins also have outstanding financial flexibility with no guaranteed contracts beyond 2019. This allows them to consider large contracts.
This offseason has given the Twins a unique opportunity to attend a party they aren’t usually invited to. If they want to add a top free agent to their emerging young core, this would be the offseason to do it. Next offseason will likely see a return to the status quo with superstars like Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, and Manny Machado set to hit the open market. The Twins could be on the verge of a franchise record free agent contract if the big-market clubs continue to hold.
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