The Twins put an emphasis on finding help for their starting rotation this offseason and, yet, when pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Tuesday in Fort Myers there will be no evidence that those efforts paid off.
The Twins attempt to land the marquee starter on the market proved unsuccessful when righthander Yu Darvish agreed to a six-year, $126 million deal with the Chicago Cubs on Saturday. The Twins reportedly offered Darvish a five-year deal for at least $100 million.
The Twins will open spring training with a starting rotation that includes Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Adalberto Mejia and plenty of competition for the fifth spot. Last year’s ace, Ervin Santana, likely won’t pitch until the beginning of May after recently having surgery on his finger.
This feels extremely underwhelming for a team that surprised everyone by winning 85 games and qualifying for the American League wild card game last season. That came after the Twins finished with a franchise-worst 103 losses during an abysmal 2016 season.
Minnesota’s bounce back season earned chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine plenty of credit but it also increased expectations that Falvey and Levine wouldn’t have to go through the type of rebuild many expected.
There were a few moves made by the duo this offseason that showed a desire to upgrade from 2017.
The bullpen was bolstered by the signings of closer Fernando Rodney; lefty Zach Duke and righthander Addison Reed. Reed, who was signed to a two-year, $16.75 million contract, had 19 saves last season pitching for the Mets and Red Sox but is likely to be used to get key outs in various situations.
Because free-agent movement around the big leagues has been so slow this offseason, the feeling among many is that the Twins aren’t done making moves. Starters Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn remain on the market, and while Arrieta ending up in Minnesota seems like a long shot, Cobb and Lynn certainly could be options.
Reports also have surfaced that the Twins are pursuing Tampa Bay righthander Chris Archer and that the Rays have interest in Minnesota right fielder Max Kepler. The Star Tribune reported Monday that the Twins made a trade offer as recently as two weeks ago.
Getting Archer from Tampa would take a lot more than Kepler, who remains under team control for five more years.
Archer is attractive to the Twins for many reasons.
He would not only rocket to the top of their rotation, giving the Twins a durable pitcher who can miss bats, but the 29-year-old also has an incredibly team-friendly contract. He is signed for four more years and will make $6.25 million in 2018, $7.5 million in 2019, $8.25 million in 2020 and $8.25 million in 2021.
The Rays are going to explore all of their options before dealing Archer, but this is a situation where Falvey and Levine would be wise to pounce on an opportunity to make a significant and long-term upgrade.
Kepler would be the starting point — it would be interesting if the Twins offered Miguel Sano instead — but you also would have to include a pitching prospect like lefty Stephen Gonsalves; prospect Nick Gordon, a shortstop; and at least one more piece. There is the potential the Rays would ask for shortstop Royce Lewis, the top pick in the 2017 draft, instead of Gordon.
Asking for Lewis might kill the deal, but the Twins would owe it to themselves to counter with a package that would be competitive with what any other team could offer.
The nice thing is that while acquiring Archer would cost you young talent, it would come at an extremely reasonable price tag. That means there would be nothing from stopping the Twins from also adding a free-agent pitcher.
Imagine a rotation that includes Archer; Cobb or Lynn; Berrios; and Santana, once he is able to return. Gibson, Mejia and the rest could then compete for the fifth spot.
Is this a long shot? Absolutely. Is it worth pursuing? Definitely.