Speaking with Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden of Sirius XM Radio on Sunday, Twins general manager Thad Levine confirmed that the team is in the market for major pitching upgrades. Levine revealed that the Twins are actively talking with the agents for available starters Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, among others, as well as representatives for various relievers (all Twitter links). The executive specifically pointed to Darvish as “a priority,” and he used the same word to describe soon-to-be free agent Shohei Ohtani.
“He’s a unique free agent, but we don’t know a lot about him personally yet,” Levine said of Ohtani. “It’s exciting for us because we have a chance to sign a player like him. He’s a top priority for us.”
The three-week sweepstakes to sign Ohtani, a Japanese pitching and hitting superstar, appears likely to commence at the start of December. Had the 23-year-old Ohtani waited until the age of 25 to come to the majors, he would have been in line to sign a mega-deal, which may have ruled out a serious Twins pursuit. But the collective bargaining agreement will limit Ohtani to a low-cost minor league contract this offseason, thereby giving all teams some chance to sign him if they’re willing to pay a $20MM posting fee to his Japanese organization, the Nippon Ham Fighters, for his services. While money isn’t going to guide Ohtani’s decision this offseason, it’s notable anyway that the Twins have the third-most bonus pool space available ($3.245MM). That won’t hurt them in their chase, of course, but they’ll have to sell Ohtani on how he’d fit into their organization and city.
Interestingly, there has been speculation that, because of the good relationship they forged in their homeland, Ohtani and Darvish, 31, could end up with the same team this winter as a sort of package deal. Landing the pair would be an enormous boon for anyone, including Minnesota, which snapped a six-year playoff drought in 2017 despite an underwhelming showing from its rotation. Twins starters ranked 19th in the majors in ERA (4.73) and 22nd in fWAR (7.7) last season, so the need for quality hurlers to complement Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios is obvious.
Considering Darvish could pull in the richest contract of the offseason, many would expect him to land outside of small-market Minnesota’s price range. However, the club is well positioned to make a bold strike in free agency this winter, as MLBTR’s Steve Adams explained earlier this month. The team itself seems to agree, judging by the established free agents it’s currently pursuing, and it’s worth noting that Levine is already familiar with Darvish from their time together in Texas.
When the Rangers landed Darvish out of Japan in 2012, Levine was their assistant GM. That experience might help during Ohtani’s recruitment, as could the fact that the Twins aren’t exactly set at designated hitter. By most accounts, Ohtani has enough offensive talent to collect regular at-bats in the majors, so he could emerge as the DH for a Minnesota team that only received average production there from Robbie Grossman and Kennys Vargas last season.