SAN DIEGO – The Twins spent the first full day of Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings speaking with representatives of some of the free agents they are interested in.
Perhaps that included agent supremium, Scott Boras, who represents most of the top free agents this particular offseason. Boras on Monday took part in a news conference to announce that one of his clients, righthander Stephen Strasburg, had agreed to a record seven-year, $245 million deal to remain with the Nationals.
It won’t be a record deal for long, as Boras also represents righthander Gerrit Cole, who is being pursued by the Yankees, Angels and Dodgers and will wind up with a more lucrative deal.
Since he is on campus, Boras could pop by one of the Twins’ suites at Manchester Grand Hyatt to let them know if another one of his clients, lefthander Hyun-Jin Ryu, is willing to pitch in the Upper Midwest. If not, then another one of Boras’ stable of arms, lefthander Dallas Keuchel, remains unsigned.
Teams are committing more money than expected to lock up top pitching, and it’s leading to quicker clarity on the starting pitching market.
“I think the timing changes. It’s moving more quickly,” said Derek Falvey, the Twins chief baseball officer. “I do think that helps us have more productive conversations with some agents whereas others are, in past years, where they decided they wanted to wait and string it out a little longer. Now it doesn’t feel like we’re having to wait as long to have some more productive dialogue.”
So far the Twins have extended the $17.8 million qualifying offer to righthander Jake Odorizzi, who accepted, and have agreed to terms with righthander Michael Pineda on a two-year, $20 million deal. They would like to add at least one more solid arm to the group, and, among others, have eyed Ryu, Keuchel and Madison Bumgarner.
The fifth spot in the rotation likely will go to the winner of the spring training pitch-off between Devin Smeltzer, Randy Dobnak and Lewis Thorpe.
“Relying on the collective group across the board wouldn’t be our goal,” Falvey said. “But it’s highly likely that one of Dobnak, Thorpe, Smeltzer, that group of guys, is going to be pitching for us early in the season as part of our rotation barring injury or something like that.”
With Strasburg and, eventually, Cole breaking the bank, the expected fallout will lead to more lucrative deals for the next tier of starters. Reports on Monday had Bumgarner’s camp asking for five years and $100 million. Ryu is 32 years old and his 182 ⅔ innings pitched in 2019 were his most since 2013. He went 14-5 with a 2.32 ERA, but his age and injury history should make him more affordable than Bumgarner. And just how attached is he to the West Coast apparently has not been determined.
It’s musical chairs at this point. Whoever doesn’t get Cole is going be antsy about landing someone from the next tier of pitchers, so that group can afford to be patient. Whoever doesn’t sign third baseman Anthony Rendon, another Boras client, will be antsy about signing Josh Donaldson, who’s on the Twins’ radar as an option if they can’t land the starting pitcher they want. They also are open to bringing back C.J. Cron to play first base. They nontendered Cron last week and likely would sign him for less than the $7 million-plus he was projected to earn in arbitration. He also had offseason thumb surgery but is on schedule to be ready for spring training.
The Twins feel they have a few options left, despite the free agent market moving faster than in recent offseasons. They have not indicated if they have any potential trade targets lined up.
“What we’ve seen the last couple of years is that this process has skewed later and later each year. Maybe we’re seeing it rebound a little bit this offseason and we’re going to be attentive to that,” General Manager Thad Levine said. “But we’re having a lot of meetings now to put ourselves in the best position to proceed. But I do think we’ve stabilized the team and that was essential. Now we still have the ability to impact it significantly.”