As spring training creeps closer — yes, it’s only two months away — we have the same old Twins. They speak optimistically of making impactful moves, fail to do so, then talk about how hard they tried.
Or so it seems.
This offseason still could be different. The Twins seem determined to try to sign one of the top free-agent pitchers, Yu Darvish — a concept skeptical Twins fans still are trying to fathom. General manager Thad Levine called Darvish “a priority.” Manager Paul Molitor, at the winter meetings on Wednesday in Florida, said the Twins have, “tremendous interest” in him.
The Twins might be serious this time.
Players and front office members, over the past few days, are speaking more optimistically about the 31-year-old righthander than they ever have about top free-agent targets. They think that Darvish’s relationship with Levine, who held a similar position with Texas when the righthander first came to America from Japan, will play a huge role. They think that coming to the Minnesota market to join a team on the rise would be the perfect move for Darvish.
With Darvish added to a rotation that already includes Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios, the Twins would have a starting staff that gives them a shot at winning four out of seven games a week, which helps good teams grind through a season.
The Twins are aware that it could take a few more weeks before Darvish makes a decision. The market for him has been slow to develop. Darvish and Jake Arrieta are the top two arms on the market, with a second tier that includes Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb. As soon as one signs, the others will fall in line. Arrieta is represented by Scott Boras, who will play negotiations out as long as it takes to get the best deal.
One Twins official feels it will be a month before Darvish signs.
There was a report on Friday on a Japanese sports website that mentioned the Cubs as a leading candidate for Darvish and had the Twins and Astros showing strong interest. The Twins have not offered a contract as of this weekend, and it is not clear if another team has.
How the Twins react when/if Darvish asks for six years and $140 million-$150 million — which would easily be a club record for a free agent — will be the test of their willingness to dive into the deep waters of free agency to add top talent.
The Twins have signed righthander Michael Pineda to a two-year, $10 million contract ($2 million in 2018 and $8 in 2019). They are betting that Pineda will recover from Tommy John surgery under their watch and become a solid rotation member in 2019.
They also have signed closer Fernando Rodney to a one-year, $4.5 million deal with an option for 2019. Former Twin Brandon Kintzler was willing to return as the closer, but the Twins surprisingly never offered him a contract. Kintzler received a two-year deal from the Nationals — plus phone calls from Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper asking him to stay in Washington. The Twins still need bullpen help. What Molitor did with Matt Belisle as closer and an largely inexperienced setup crew during the second half of last season was just short of a miracle.
Darvish, however, is the primary target to strengthen the rotation and help close the gap with the Cleveland Indians, who are taking free-agent losses.
The Twins, for a change, are not trying to catch sunfish; they are set up for trophy walleyes. Signing Darvish would be the strongest signal yet that times have changed at Target Field.
And they have to realize that no one wants to hear about the one that got away.