MADISON LAKE, MINN. – Even with 150 ice fishermen taking part in the Twins’ first winter tournament here Monday, only one puny fish was landed all day.
Paul Molitor hopes that isn’t a metaphor for the Twins’ luck in reeling in free-agent starting pitchers.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve addressed our bigger goal yet,” Molitor said as he tried to warm up after a morning on ice in this southern Minnesota town. “But I still think something is going to happen.”
When the Twins might land a big one, or even a fifth-starter type, their manager couldn’t say. None of the top dozen or so starting pitchers available this winter has signed a contract yet, and that, Molitor theorized, might work to his team’s advantage.
“The numbers are staggering — there are so many good players, and good pitchers, out there. There will be some bargains, I would think,” Molitor said of the abnormally quiet free-agent marketplace. “I think everyone agrees we need to supplement our options with some quality starters. Some way, I still think that’s going to happen.”
It might not be an All-Star player commanding a nine-figure contract, though the Twins reportedly remain in contact with Dodgers righthander Yu Darvish. But players such as Jaime Garcia or Chris Tillman, available at more affordable prices, or even Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb, who still figure to command four-year deals, would look good on a starting staff that has ranked in the bottom half of the AL in ERA for 10 consecutive seasons.
“I don’t know if the top guys will come back and consider more teams in their deliberations, or if it will be guys who can help improve the bottom of the rotation,” Molitor said. “There’s enough pitching out there that we can at least deepen our options.”
Having been a free agent twice during his Hall of Fame playing career, Molitor said he empathizes with the current crop of unemployed players and the uncertainty they are still living with.
“People must be getting anxious. I know I would. I wouldn’t want the instability of not knowing, this close to spring training,” he said. “These guys may be getting squeezed a little bit, by their own expectations. Who’s going to blink? There are a lot of dynamics playing out.”
Chief among them is the unwillingness of teams to offer contracts as lengthy as they once did.
“It just seems there has been an obvious increase in the number of clubs that are afraid of long-term commitments, because they just haven’t panned out,” Molitor said. “Teams are smarter in tracking players now — not just in what they’ve done, but the probability of what they might do, and for how long.”
Still, it’s already been a good offseason for the Twins, Molitor said, because the bullpen has been markedly improved by the addition of free agents Fernando Rodney, Zack Duke, and Addison Reed, the righthander who signed a two-year, $16.75 million contract Monday.
“It pretty much fills us out. There’s still going to be competition, but this will give us an opportunity to have more experience,” Molitor said. The addition of three veterans will help, not impede, the development of the Twins’ stable of young relievers, who were so valuable during the playoff drive, Molitor believes.
Pitchers such as Trevor Hildenberger, Alan Busenitz, John Curtiss and Gabriel Moya “are going to stay on a good course without the pressure,” he said.
On Monday, Busenitz felt the pressure of trying to stay warm on a day when the temperature barely rose above zero, all while trying to convince a fish to bite his hook. It was the first example of the Twins’ attempt to add more activities and attractions to their annual caravan, entertaining fans with more than just hearing players speak. The contest, run by the Twins and radio station KTOE-AM, raised money for Mankato youth baseball and softball.
Molitor approves of the new format, even if it means a couple of hours in a freezing ice tent, watching Eduardo Escobar, Robbie Grossman and Busenitz fish.
“Caravan is good. It’s a good investment of our time to keep the goodwill growing,” he said. “And it’s entertaining. Watching [Byron] Buxton walk out on the ice [during a curling contest] last year for the first time, I don’t know if I will ever see him look less athletic-looking than at that moment. Very tentative.”
• To make room on the 40-man roster for Reed, the Twins designated lefthander Buddy Boshers for assignment.