It’s no secret that the Twins need an Ace. They haven’t had a true number-one starter since Johan Santana, and that was ten years ago. The offensive pieces are pretty much there — the Twins scored the fourth most runs in the AL with a mostly young and still developing lineup in 2017 — but, as we learned in the wildcard playoff game against the Yankees, the Twins don’t have the pitching to make it anywhere in the playoffs.
The Twins front office, obviously, is aware of this fact, and according to Jon Heyman, they’re actually going to try and do something about it this winter. In his piece published Thursday, entitled, “Twins could target top-tier free-agent starters”, Heyman explained:
The Minnesota Twins are said by sources to be considering a run at one of the big free-agent starters available after their amazing success story last year.
They are thought to be considering even the very top guys – Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb – as they look to improve off their surprising 2016 playoff team. Twins ownership is said to have big faith in the new management team of president Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine, and is strongly weighing whether to make a big investment in a team that features a very strong offense and a particularly impressive core of young position players.
Can you imagine if the Twins got Yu Darvish? I can’t!
Don’t get me wrong — I love Jon Heyman (and Darvish), and Heyman’s explanation sounds perfectly reasonable: the new front office has done a great job so far, and I know I’m more confident in them; the offense is young and good enough to make a large pitching investment worth it; and Jim Pohlad can technically afford to make a big splash if he really, really wants to. I mean, have you ever seen his house? His outdoor retaining walls are made of polished granite. I’d eat off them.
However, the Twins aren’t actually going to sign an Ace this offseason. Sorry.
Of course, Heyman didn’t say they were going to either. It’s right there in the title: “Twins could target top-tier free-agent starters”. So while, yes, the Twins need an Ace — heck, they need two Aces — so does every other team in baseball. And there’s only one free-agent pitcher available this winter I could call an Ace: Yu Darvish. Are the Twins going to win a bidding war against the Dodgers or any multiple handfuls of other teams that have more money than the Twins? Those retaining walls are polished granite, not platinum.
The Twins could sign another of the top-tier free-agent pitchers available, and doing so would certainly help their rotation. There’s only a few out there, though, and none of them are Aces or even bonafide number-one starters. Jake Arrieta is available, but it’s not 2015 anymore. He’s still a fine pitcher, but his 4.16 FIP last year only tied him for 31st best in baseball. The pitcher he was tied with, Alex Cobb, is also available, and MLB Trade Rumors even predicted the Twins would end up with him. After Arrieta and Cobb, the only other top tier-ish starter on the market is Lance Lynn. Lynn, who missed 2016 due to Tommy John surgery, had a 4.82 FIP in 2017. His strikeout rate (19.7%) also dropped a bit compared to pre-surgery, but, okay, FINE, whatever, I’ll take Lance Lynn.
The problem, as mentioned, is that there are still handfuls of other teams out there who want pitching, have more money than the Twins, and aren’t going to get Yu Darvish. Many of them are going to be looking for the next best thing as well. That’s still probably Arrieta, who’ll fetch significantly more money than Lynn or Cobb due to him being the most accomplished and healthy of the bunch. Heyman estimates Arrieta will get a five-year, $125 million deal, while MLB Trade Rumors has him at four years, $100 million. Both estimates have Arrieta getting $25 million per year, which is even more than Joe Mauer is paid per year — a.k.a. kinda spendy.
How much would Lynn or Cobb cost, though? Heyman thinks Cobb could get a five-year, $75 million deal, while MLB Trade Rumors has him at four years, $48 million. That’s quite the spread, and I think the actual deal will probably be more like four years, $59 million. Both Heyman and MLB Trade Rumors have Lynn at exactly four years, $56 million, which seems about right. Signing either player would also cost the Twins their second draft pick, since both pitchers received qualifying offers from their former teams.
While the Twins will most likely spend more than the roughly $105 million they spent in 2017, I don’t expect next year’s payroll to top $120 million (which even then may be a stretch). So is a draft pick and $14 to $15 million next year for Lynn or Cobb too much? That would put the Twins 2018 payroll, as of now, around a healthy $100 to $101 million, meaning they could sign one of the pitchers and still have money in the banana stand for some other signings.
So it seems signing Cobb or Lynn would be perfectly do-able for the Twins. Both pitchers are better than the next tier of free agents available, which includes guys like old-acquaintance Jaime Garcia, and they would almost certainly improve the Twins rotation. The team would also be spending more money on payroll, just like they said they would. Heck, a deal for Lynn or Cobb could very well top Ervin Santana’s record $58 million contract, which would make it the biggest free agent signing in Twins history.
But the Twins still aren’t getting an Ace. They’re getting Lance Lynn.