FORT MYERS, Fla. – Whether it’s by secondhand recommendation, industry reputation or even a Yelp review or two, something strange has happened in Major League Baseball this spring: The Twins have become a more desired offseason destination than Las Vegas.
Lance Lynn headed for Fort Myers on Sunday to undergo a physical exam, and the righthanded starter is expected to sign a one-year contract Monday, making him the latest in a series of players who chose the Twins over competing — sometimes better — offers.
The reason is simple, according to Zach Duke, another of the Twins’ seven free-agent signees. “The feeling around the game is, we’re going for it,” the veteran lefthander said Sunday. “We’ve got a great bunch here, and we can do some great things. That’s attractive to people.”
So it seems. This winter’s bizarrely frigid market for available talent ultimately has worked to the Twins’ advantage, to the point where some free agents grew intent upon becoming Twins and wouldn’t take no for an answer. When Lynn — like first baseman Logan Morrison before him — didn’t receive sufficiently lucrative long-term contract offers that they had expected, they eventually elected to accept shorter, cheaper deals and try the market again later.
And in both cases, a source with knowledge of the negotiations said, they took a bit less money (on already hugely discounted deals) in order to join the Twins.
“By word of mouth, or what they’ve witnessed, it’s an appealing place, for whatever reason,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “We’ve been able to get some people on our radar and land a significant amount of supplementation to our roster. … It’s an attractive place to come right now, given [our] direction and the talent level.”
Morrison was reportedly influenced by the opinion of Jake Odorizzi, his former Rays teammate who was acquired in a late February trade. Morrison, in turn, had been working out with Lynn, among others, at Cressey Sports Performance in Jupiter, Fla., so Lynn likely had firsthand reports about the transformation of the Twins’ pitching staff this winter.
Improving by 30 games and reaching the wild-card game last year undoubtedly helped the Twins get noticed, too.
“You look at what we were able to do last year, and then we basically brought everyone [in the lineup] back, plus filled some holes,” said catcher Jason Castro, a free-agent acquisition last offseason. “If you’re a free agent and you’re looking at that, at what the team is shaping up to look like, this definitely feels like an exciting place to be.”
The midcamp moves have been mostly applauded by Twins fans, and they are not the only ones growing enthusiastic about the 2018 season. The buzz in the Twins’ own clubhouse is unmistakable, too.
“That was what everyone was talking about today,” Castro said. “Guys were really excited when they heard the news.”
Added All-Star righthander Ervin Santana: “It feels like everybody is happy and wants to win. I don’t know how to describe it, but you can feel it in here — anything can happen. We made the playoffs last year, and we’ve improved the team.”
Lynn is a smart addition, Castro said, because he has a fastball-first approach that is unlike the styles of his new teammates.
“He’s got really good, dominant stuff. He has an explosive fastball, and can really pitch off of it,” Castro said of the 30-year-old former Cardinals pitcher. “I feel like that’s kind of becoming rare these days, guys that really attack you with [velocity] and come right at you with fastballs.”
With only a one-year contract, Lynn will be trying to reinforce his value for another run at free agency next fall, when signing him won’t come tied to the loss of a draft pick, as it does for the Twins. And if he is upset at how this offseason went, at having to accept a contract that’s a few million short even of the $17.4 million qualifying offer the Cardinals made and Lynn rejected, perhaps that’s good for the Twins, too.
“The competitive nature that’s in all of us is going to maybe forge some sort of chip on his shoulder. You want to go prove yourself, and that’s only going to benefit us,” Castro said. “I’m excited to get to work with him. It’s going to be fun.”