The Minnesota Twins went from winning 59 games in 2016 to snatching the second AL Wild Card at 85-77 in 2017. And while their 26-game jump could be a positive sign of what’s to come this season, the Twins need more firepower in order to compete in the American League. So how do they make their roster more formidable? Sign a top of the rotation arm.
Last season, the Twins’ starting pitching, while not awful, was far from stellar. Outside of Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios, Paul Molitor‘s staff was underwhelming in 2017. Finishing 19th in team ERA (4.59), they weren’t able to complement their electric lineup. With the likes of Brian Dozier, Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco, Eduardo Escobar, Max Kepler and Joe Mauer in place, the Twins have a deep lineup, even with third baseman Miguel Sano‘s future with the team in doubt based on an allegation against him.
In an effort to become a more complete team, the Twins have bolstered their bullpen this offseason– which was a glaring weakness in 2017. Finishing 22nd in ERA (4.40) and trading away All Star closer Brandon Kintzler at the trade deadline, their pen was a shaky bunch. To help shore up their backend, the Twins have signed relievers’ Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed.
It’s well-known that Darvish is not adept at pitching at a high level in the postseason. In 2016, he surrendered four home runs in an ALDS outing and couldn’t get out of the second inning after giving up four earned runs in both of his 2017 World Series’ outings. He’s also started 29+ games in just three seasons. At the same time, Darvish would be a huge signing for the Twins, especially if his price tag continues to fall.
For his career, Darvish has pitched to a 3.42 ERA and, when he has his command, is an overpowering presence on the rubber. His fastball reaches the high 90s, he has nasty breaking pitches and is a strikeout savvy righty. Posting three 200+ strikeout seasons — ironically, in the three years he started 29+ games –, he’s shown that he can dominate when he has his command. Once said to be receiving offers in the $160 million range, Darvish now finds his market reeling and with a need for starting pitching, Minnesota makes sense for his services.
Outside of Darvish, the Twins could look to sign Chicago Cubs’ righty Jake Arrieta. The 2015 NL Cy Young is another player whose value has dropped, being that the majority of top-tier MLB free agents remained unsigned. Once categorized as “a big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his tree” by agent Scott Boras, Arrieta now finds himself looking for a home. And if the price continues to fall, Minnesota could look to snatch him.
Much like Darvish, Arrieta is viewed as one of the better right handers in MLB, and he is ultimately the best arm on the open market. He’s pitched in the big game before and is a bonafide ace. However, if the Twins are uncomfortable spending big money on a starting pitcher (potentially $100 million+ in total), they could shift their attention to the Tampa Bays Rays’ Alex Cobb and/or the St. Louis Cardinals’ Lance Lynn.
Both Cobb and Lynn have fallen under the radar based on the presence of Arrieta and Darvish in free agency, but, in fact, have more value than the golden arms. For starters, Cobb and Lynn have each respectively pitched to a 3.50 and 3.38 ERA over the duration of their careers and will likely sign at a significantly lower rate than Arrieta and Darvish. If the Twins want bang for their buck, then why not sign Cobb or Lynn, or both, to smaller deals? It would deepen their rotation and prevent them from forking over a $100 million+ deal to just one pitcher — which they haven’t been adept at doing in recent years.
With a top of the rotation arm in place (Arrieta, Darvish, Cobb, Lynn) alongside Santana and Berrios, Minnesota can be a serious threat to not only make it back to the AL Wild Card game, but also compete for the division.
At first thought, the idea of the Twins having any chance to compete with the Cleveland Indians for the division crown sounds ludicrous. But after losing first baseman Carlos Santana, right fielder Jay Bruce and relievers’ Joe Smith and Bryan Shaw to free agency, they’ve lost some key aspects of their 102-win team. And even though the signing of Yonder Alonso is a shrewd transaction to replace Santana, the Indians, as an organization, are scarred by their back-to-back postseason chokes.
Blowing a 3-1 lead to the Cubs in the 2016 World Series and a 2-0 lead to the New York Yankees in the 2017 ALDS, the Indians have been their own biggest enemy. With their continued inability to finish in the postseason and some core members gone via free agency, the Indians head into 2018 under a heap of pressure and a few men down. Are they the frontrunner to win the AL Central? Sure, but the playoffs are never a given and with a relatively young Twins’ team on the rise, the top of the division will be interesting in 2018.
Adding a top of the rotation arm, or two, would make Minnesota an even bigger American League threat. And with the amount of high profile players still waiting for phone calls nearly three months into free agency, the Twins have the chance to swoop in and make a shrewd signing.