- The Twins are “still trying to match schedules” to schedule a sit-down with free agent Yu Darvish, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN (via Twitter). That’s somewhat odd to read at this stage of the winter; Darvish has already met with other teams, Minnesota has long labeled him a “priority,” and spring camp is just six weeks away. Nevertheless, at this point it seems little has changed in the situation: the Twins are still interested in the top-flight righty, though it’s difficult to determine a favorite in the Darvish sweepstakes. To that end, it’s worth noting that Jim Bowden of The Athletic wrote today that Minnesota “appears … prepared to offer a market deal” for Darvish (though it stands to reason that an in-person meeting would precede such an offer). Bowden also notes that the Astros are still in the Darvish mix, in part due to concerns over their ability to sign Dallas Keuchel long term, and he cites multiple sources in reporting that the Rangers are still alive in the bidding for Darvish as well.
- Some down-market free agent starters may still be waiting to see what happens up top. Per Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN, via Twitter, the Twins are giving the “sense” to the reps of some hurlers that they want to see what happens with Yu Darvish before pursuing next-tier hurlers such as Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn. That said, as Nightengale also notes, Darvish (like Arrieta) is still waiting to see if he can secure a sixth or even seventh guaranteed season. No doubt some possible trade situations are also contributing to the stasis; as ever, some player or some team may need to blink before things get flowing.
- Though they’ve explored various trade scenarios, the Twins are likelier to address their rotation on the free-agent market, MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger writes in his latest Twins Inbox piece. Minnesota has a blank payroll slate beyond the 2019 season, and Bollinger suggests that the front office would rather use those financial resources than deplete the farm system in order to add to the rotation. The Twins have been prominently mentioned as a possible landing spot for Yu Darvish, though it stands to reason that they’ve also likely looked into Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn as well.
- First baseman Ji-Man Choi’s agency in Korea recently spoke to the media about their client’s current foray into free agency and revealed that he’s received offers (presumably of the minor league variety) from the Yankees, Angels, Rays, A’s, Brewers, Marlins, Cubs, Reds, Orioles, Twins, Braves, Blue Jays and White Sox (English link via Jee-ho Yoo of South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency). The 26-year-old Choi slugged a pair of homers in 18 plate appearances with the Yankees last year and posted a strong year with their Triple-A affiliate, slashing .288/.373/.538 in 87 games. In parts of five Triple-A campaigns, Choi has posted a robust .298/.390/.479 batting line.
The Twins have yet to speak to Brian Dozier about a contract extension, the second baseman tells Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. With Dozier entering the last season of his contract, the two sides have had “zero conversations about after next year,” Dozier said.
The lack of negotiations isn’t necessarily a surprise at this point in the offseason, of course, as most teams generally handle focus on signings, trade talks, and arbitration cases before turning their attention to in-house extensions. (This winter’s particularly-stalled free agent market could even delay extension business later into Spring Training than usual for some clubs.) Beyond Dozier, the Twins also have Joe Mauer and Eduardo Escobar slated to hit the open market after the 2018 season, with Ervin Santana and Fernando Rodney also candidates for free agency depending on club options.
Still, Dozier stands out as Minnesota’s top impending free agent priority, though the idea of an extension between the two sides (or even Dozier still being in a Twins uniform entering 2018) seemed far-fetched at this point last year. Dozier has long been the subject of trade rumors, and at one point in the 2016-17 offseason seemed to be on the verge of being dealt to the Dodgers. Even last summer, Dozier was one of several Twins veterans the team was weighing as trade chips, though Minnesota eventually rebounded to capture a berth in the AL Wild Card game.
Last season’s surprising success changed the equation for the Twins, who are now exploring ways to build around its young core of talent in the hopes of contending again next year. As such, keeping Dozier now looks like it could be a possibility, particularly since Minnesota has quite a bit of payroll flexibility beyond the 2018 season. (Of course, the Twins might add to those future commitments in a significant way this offseason should they land a top free agent pitcher.)
Dozier is finishing up a previous extension with the Twins, a four-year/$20MM deal that covered his final pre-arbitration season and his three years of arbitration eligibility. That contract ended up being a nice bargain for the Twins through Dozier’s arb years, as he has continued to perform as one of the game’s best second basemen, particularly over the last two seasons. Dozier has hit .269/.349/.521 with 76 homers and 34 steals (out of 43 chances) over 1396 PA since the start of the 2016 season, accumulating 10.9 fWAR over that period. From 2014-17, Dozier has been worth 18.8 fWAR, a total topped by only 13 other position players in all of baseball.
Dozier turns 31 in May, so an extension carries some risk as it would be covering a potential decline period as he leaves his prime. The lack of return on the Twins’ extensions for Mauer and Phil Hughes could also make the team wary about another long-term deal. On the flip side, Dozier has been a durable player, and 2017 was his most polished season yet as a hitter, with Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan noting Dozier’s increased success at hitting to the opposite field.
In his preview of the Twins’ offseason, MLBTR’s Steve Adams cited Daniel Murphy’s three-year, $37.5MM deal with the Nationals or Justin Turner’s four-year, $64MM Dodgers contract as potential talking points for a Dozier extension, with Turner’s deal standing out as the better comparable. One interesting wrinkle could be the fact that, without an extension, Dozier would be competing with several other superstar players in the very crowded 2018-19 free agent class. Dozier would have an advantage, however, as the clear top option on the second base market.
If an extension isn’t worked out, the Twins will likely explore trading Dozier at the deadline if the team falls out of contention. For now, however, it looks like the Twins aren’t moving the second baseman, which is something Dozier appreciates after so much past speculation. “It’s kind of funny how winning can change a lot of different things as far as offseason trade talks,” Dozier said. “I recognize it’s a business. We all do. But it has been pretty relieving not hearing my name every single day about where I might be traded. That’s a good thing.”
- There have been some conflicting signals floating around on slugger Mike Napoli, it seems clear there’s serious interest between him and the Twins. The veteran slugger hasn’t lined up yet with Minnesota, but Heyman says some believe it’s “something of a likelihood” that a deal will ultimately be struck between the sides. Of course, there are still quite a few other defensively-limited sluggers on the market, but it seems the Twins are focused on Napoli both to add some pop and provide a strong veteran presence to the young squad.
DEC. 29: Duke will receive $2.15MM, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag tweets. Per Berardino, via Twitter, Duke can add $200K bonuses for making his 40th and 50th appearances, $300K at #55 and #60, and another $500K if he takes the ball 65 times.
DEC. 26, 9:05pm: Duke’s guarantee is “just over” $2MM and he can earn up to $1.5MM more via incentives, Berardino tweets.
5:30pm: The Twins have officially announced Duke’s one-year contract.
10:10am: 1500 ESPN’s Darren Wolfson tweets that Duke’s contract is a Major League deal that is expected to be worth between $1.5MM and $2MM. Minnesota’s 40-man roster is full with the addition of Duke.
DEC. 25: The Twins have agreed to a deal with veteran lefty Zach Duke, as KFAN’s Paul Lambert first tweeted. Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press confirms on Twitter, adding that the deal is still pending a physical. Terms of the arrangement aren’t yet known. Duke is a client of ISE Baseball.
Duke, 34, is coming off of a limited 2017 campaign. Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery in mid-October of 2016, he managed to bounce back in time to make 27 appearances for the Cardinals.
As might have been expected, given his rapid return, Duke showed some rust. He recorded only 5.9 K/9 and allowed far more hard contact (37.0%) than usual while posting a 3.93 ERA over 18 1/3 frames. On the other hand, the southpaw allowed only a .197/.284/.364 batting line to opposing hitters (with minimal platoon splits) and generated rates of swinging strikes (10.9%) and groundballs (50.4%) that were not out of line with the figures he has maintained in recent seasons.
[Related: Updated Minnesota Twins depth chart]
For Minnesota, the move gives the team a potentially solid second lefty to pair with Taylor Rogers at what will likely turn out to be a marginal commitment. If Duke can rebound to anything like the form he showed over the prior three seasons — over which he posted a 2.74 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 over 180 1/3 innings — then he’ll surely represent a true bargain.
The Twins have already added Fernando Rodney to bolster a questionable late-inning unit. Perhaps, then, the organization will turn its focus to addressing other needs, though surely additional bullpen moves will at least be considered. The 2017 unit, after all, rated 22nd among all MLB teams by measure of both fWAR and ERA.
2:15pm: The Twins issued the following statement:
“Today the Minnesota Twins were made aware of allegations involving Miguel Sano at an offsite appearance during the 2015 season. The Twins, along with Major League Baseball, take these allegations very seriously. Until more information is gathered, the Twins will have no further comment.”
A short while later, Sano issued the following statement:
“I unequivocally deny the allegation made against me today — it never happened. I have the utmost respect for women, especially those working in professional sports, and I deeply sympathize with anyone who has experienced sexual harassment. There is no place for it in our society.”
12:53pm: Photographer Betsy Bissen has accused Twins third baseman Miguel Sano of assault, in a post on social media this morning. Bissen, a photographer who has covered Twins games and events, describes an incident in 2015 with Sano at an autograph signing. Bissen says Sano recognized her from Twins games she worked as a photographer. In her account, she describes how Sano flirted without reciprocation during the signing, and later “grabbed my wrist and made me go” with him, his agent, and her employer to an Apple Store. Bissen further describes the incident as follows:
“We spend around a half hour inside that store before it was time for him and his agent to leave. Their car was pulled around to a back hallway door. As we got outside, the athlete decided he needed to use the restroom. I asked my boss where it was and pointed to the door we just walked thru. Apparently I was too close, and the athlete took that as a signal that I wanted him to grab me and try to take me back thru that door.
I pulled back as he held onto my wrist. It hurt, how badly he was grasping at my wrist, but he wouldn’t let go. I wasn’t going to give up my fight though. He then leaned down and tried to kiss me, more than once. Every time he did, I said no and kept pulling back. I was in a squatted position with my wrist throbbing. I screamed, no one came to help me. He finally gave up after a solid ten mins of fighting to pull me thru that door. I don’t even want to think of what he may have done, had he got me thru that door. No, he didn’t rape me, but he sure did assault me. When I said no, it should have been the end of it. He should have respected that and stopped. Instead, he hurt me and kept going.
The next day, my body was sore all over from having to fight off this athlete that thought he was entitled to take advantage of me against my will.”
MLB and the players’ union agreed to a domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse policy in August 2015. It seems likely that MLB will investigate this incident, which could result in a suspension for Sano. It appears the Twins may just be learning about this incident. This year’s #metoo movement seems to have compelled Bissen to share her story publicly. I asked Bissen in a Twitter message whether she would cooperate with MLB if they contact her, and she replied, “If they do, I will cooperate. I honestly don’t want anything from this other than to feel free from what happened to me.”
The Twins are heartened by Miguel Sano’s rehab from surgery to insert a titanium rod into his shin, writes MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger, but it’s still unlikely that Sano will log 150+ games at third base next season. Minnesota will still rely on Sano at the hot corner, but will rotate him between that position and DH, once again giving Eduardo Escobar reps at third as well. The ability to spell Sano and first baseman Joe Mauer with time at DH is one reason that the Twins aren’t looking to bring in a full-time DH, per Bollinger. “We saw the benefits of cycling guys through that spot last year,” said GM Thad Levine. “We’d like to keep the DH spot a little more fluid than lock somebody into it.” Minnesota, of course, has been linked to Mike Napoli, though he’d presumably open the year as more of a part-time DH against lefties than an everyday option at the position.
DEC. 27: Jon Heyman of FanRag notes that although no deal was ever imminent (and he never reported that it was), the talks should be considered serious, as he believes they’ve progressed to a point where Minnesota looks like the most likely landing spot for the first baseman.
5:50pm: MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand hears that while the Twins like Napoli, there’s nothing imminent between the two sides (Twitter link). Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press (Twitter link) hears similarly, saying the Twins’ focus remains on their pitching staff.
DEC. 25, 10:32am: The two sides are in “serious talks,” says Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports.
DEC. 24: The Twins have interest in signing free agent first baseman Mike Napoli and have been in touch with Napoli’s agent, according to La Velle E. Neal III and Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News first noted the interest recently via Twitter. There isn’t any sign yet that the two sides are close to an agreement.
This isn’t the first time that Minnesota has been linked to Napoli, as the club originally tried to sign Napoli last offseason and actually offered him a larger deal than the one he eventually signed with the Rangers — a one-year, $6MM deal with an $11MM club option for 2019 that included a $2.5MM buyout. At the time, Napoli chose the Rangers because they looked like a better bet to contend in 2017, though it was the Twins who ended up making a surprise run to the AL wild card game while Texas posted a losing record.
It was a tough year for Napoli as well, as the veteran hit only .193/.285/.428 over 485 plate appearances for the Rangers, though he did slug 29 home runs. A torn right hand ligament may well have contributed to Napoli’s struggles, though the Rangers chose to buy the veteran out rather than bet $8.5MM more on a rebound year for a player who turned 36 on Halloween.
Given that Napoli provided good power numbers even despite an overall lackluster season at the plate, he could provide a right-handed boost to the Twins’ bench, and even become a major bargain if he could regain the old form that he displayed as recently as the 2016 season. As Neal and Miller note, the Twins also value Napoli’s reputation as a clubhouse leader, which could be particularly important for a young team that has an eye towards becoming a regular contender. Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine are both very familiar with Napoli’s contributions on and off the field, as Napoli played for the Indians and Rangers when Falvey and Levine respectively worked in those clubs’ front offices.
The Twins’ move towards contention and their lack of future payroll commitments have given them lots of options this winter, as the club has been linked to several major names on the free agents and trade markets (though Fernando Rodney has been the only truly notable addition to date). Minnesota has much more of a dire need for pitching than hitting, so signing a part-time bat like Napoli wouldn’t do much to slow their hopes of landing a top-tier arm.