LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA.
It appears the winter meetings will come and go without the Twins making a move to improve their starting rotation for next season.
Actually, the one move they made Wednesday was to sign former Mariners and Yankees starter Michael Pineda to a two-year, $10 million contract — but after having Tommy John surgery in July, he’ll have to complete his rehabilitation before being considered for the 2019 rotation.
The Twins, however, still send out vibes they are looking to add top-tier starting pitching to help them build on their surprising 85-77 record last season. And those vibes were strong when Twins manager Paul Molitor was asked about interest in former Rangers and Dodgers righthander Yu Darvish, one of the top free-agent starters on the market.
“Let’s make sure that the player and his team understand that we want to be part of discussions and we have targeted him as somebody we have tremendous interest in,” Molitor said. “Where that’s going to go, where the market’s going to go, what we’re able to do, how far other teams are willing to go — you know, [those] things you can’t control.”
Earlier in the offseason, General Manager Thad Levine described Darvish as a “priority for us,” words rarely heard from a Twins executive in regards to a top free agent.
Darvish, 31, was 10-12 with a 3.86 ERA for the Rangers and Dodgers last season. He helped the Dodgers reach the postseason before having two forgettable outings in the World Series.
Still, he could help the Twins reach the postseason for the second consecutive season and perhaps get deeper into the playoffs. By joining forces with Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios, the Twins would have a solid three-fifths of a rotation. Kyle Gibson, as of now, would be No. 4, with Phil Hughes and Adalberto Mejia in the mix for the fifth spot. Prospects Stephen Gonsalves, Aaron Slegers, Felix Jorge and Fernando Romero are in the wings.
Darvish is 56-42 with a 3.42 ERA in 131 starts over five seasons.
Levine knows Darvish from his time with the Rangers, and Darvish was a teammate of Twins catcher Chris Gimenez there. Those ties certainly don’t hurt, but it usually takes more cash than connections to execute such a deal.
As they talked about their interest in Darvish, Levine and Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey said they weren’t sure what the market is for Darvish, including how many teams are interested or what type of deal it might take to sign him.
“There’s been particularly minimal information revealed about the top end of the starting pitching market, to my knowledge,” Levine said.
But they have been in contact with Darvish’s representatives and are willing to remain in the race as long as it makes sense. And they would not have stuck a toe in these waters unless they had assurances from owner Jim Pohlad that he’ll write a bigger check than he’s used to writing in order to make a deal.
“Jim has challenged us to always evaluate every potential opportunity,” Falvey said. “And we felt incredibly supported in that. If we feel the right baseball decision is to be made, we’ll bring it to him.”
If the Twins don’t land Darvish, there’s enough time to sign another available starter such as Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb. They are interested in Rays righthander Chris Archer if Tampa Bay decides to trade him.
Adding Pineda, 28, is a relatively low-risk move that could pay off in 2019.
Pineda — who throws around 94 miles per hour and also has a sharp slider — has had shoulder, elbow and conditioning problems since breaking into the league in 2011. He’s never pitched more than 176 innings in a season. Tendinitis and a torn labrum kept him out of the majors in 2012 and 2013. He was suspended for 10 games in 2014 for using pine tar, which he hid in plain sight on his neck.
On July 14 last season, Pineda suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament that required season-ending surgery. He has a chance of returning before the end of 2018, but the Twins are focusing on 2019 with him. They will get to work with him through the rest of his rehabilitation, then prepare him their way. There are some risks. The 6-7, 260-pound Pineda has struggled with his conditioning and motivation.
But if the Twins’ offseason plans eventually work out, Pineda and Darvish would be rotation mates in 2019.
“Just trying to be creative about ways to build for now and the future,” Falvey said. “We think [Pineda’s ceiling] is really high. It’s a chance to get a guy who has had some ups and downs at certain junctures.”