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Pitchers the Twins should go after in free agency

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The Twins need pitching, but which free agents should they target in the 2017-2018 offseason?

MLB: NLCS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Chicago Cubs
A proven closer, anyone?
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

It is a fact that the Twins will try to add some arms this offseason, but there are a few routes they could take in doing so. There is a solid amount of pitching depth available in free agency this year, and there are always trades that could help the team out. But before we dive in to who the Twins should go after, let’s take a closer look at what the team already has.

Starting Pitching

In terms of pure ability the team's current rotation is likely something along the lines of:

1 (true ace) - X

2 (great) - Ervin Santana

3 (good or better) - Jose Berrios

4 (useful but inconsistant) - X

5 (innings-eater) - Kyle Gibson/Adelberto Mejia

6 (callups) - Stephen Gonsalves/Felix Jorge/Fernando Romero/Zack Littell

There are legitimate #1 pitchers on the market this year, but it is yet to be seen if the Twins will be willing or able to sign those players. It is more likely the team is able to sign another #3 pitcher, going without a true "ace", but adding depth that would be an improvement over 38 starts from Bartolo Colon, Hector Santiago, and Phil Hughes.

Here are the pitchers I think the Twins could be in on this offseason:

Yu Darvish

World Series performance aside, Yu Darvish is the best pitcher on the market. He would likely require a six-year contract around or above the $25 million per year range. That is a lot of money to give a 31-year-old who has only thrown 200 innings once in his career (and made it there again thanks to the post season this year), but his skill may be worth it.

2018 will be his second full season back from Tommy John surgery, so there is a chance that Darvish improves upon his solid 3.86 ERA and 10.1 K/9 rate over 186.2 innings during the 2017 regular season. Despite his injury history, his average fastball velocity of 94.2 was a career high this year, showing there may be plenty in the tank for the longevity of his contract.

Darvish is long removed from (and has had a tendon replaced since) his 2013 campaign that almost won him a Cy Young award, but he would still be a major pickup for a team that has needed frontline starting pitching for over a decade.

Potential: A big move that requires a hefty investment, Darvish has ties to Thad Levine and would fit a major need for the Twins. I'd say Darvish to the Twins is solidly in the "so you're saying there's a chance?" range.

Jake Arrieta

I'm covering Jake Arrieta here only because if I don't, someone will complain in the comments. Listen: since Arrieta's Cy Young season in 2015, his ERA, FIP, xFIP, Home Run-to-Fly Ball ratio, ground ball rate, and average fastball velocity have gotten worse each year. These last two season's have been fine, with a 3.10 ERA over 197.1 innings in 2016 and 3.53 ERA over just 168.1 innings in 2017. But Arrieta has never performed well in the American League, and I do not trust him for the length of the contract or amount of money that will be required to sign him.

Potential: Please no.

Lance Lynn

With Masahiro Tanaka returning to the Yankees, Lance Lynn's stock rises quite a bit. In his first season back from injury, Lynn posted a 3.43 ERA and 7.4 K/9 in 186.1 innings across 33 starts. He did have a career high 3.8 BB/9 rate, a 4.82 FIP, and 4.75 xFIP, but if Lynn can bring back some of his pre-surgery velocity, he could regain his 2012-2015 form.

I'm a bit concerned that Lynn relied on his fastball 81 percent of the time last season, and that he is a career National Leaguer (so too was Ricky Nolasco), but he has long been an underrated pitcher and he would provide solid depth. A four-year contract between $50-$60 million would be similar to what the old regime handed out to Ervin Santana, but Lynn doesn't come with quite the same pedigree, even though he is a year younger than Santana was when he signed.

A rotation of Santana-Berrios-Lynn-Gibson-Mejia would be an improvement over last year, despite lacking the front end skill so many fans want.

Potential: With Tanaka off the market, Lynn becomes far more attractive, so the lifelong Cardinal should have his pick of teams. I'd say Lynn-to-the-Twins is both solid and possible, although not the most probable move the Twins could make.

Alex Cobb

In the terms of the 2017-2018 free agent class, Alex Cobb is a slightly poorer version of Lance Lynn. Whereas Lynn is probably a surefire #3 starter, Cobb is more of a #3/#4. Like Lynn, Cobb has also worked his way back from Tommy John and had a solid ERA in his first full season back, despite peripherals that should lead to at least some concern.

Cobb posted a 3.66 ERA and 6.42 K/9 in 179.1 innings over 29 starts in 2017. A 4.16 FIP and 4.26 xFIP along with a career low K/9 point towards the possibility of regression, although he did post a career low 2.2 BB/9 and an average fastball velocity that was in line with his pre-injury 2014 season.

Cobb has never pitched more than the 179.1 innings he pitched in 2017, so durability is a concern, especially since his contract is expected to be in the $45-50 million dollar range over four years.

Potential: Cobb would be a cheaper and younger version of Lance Lynn without the 200-inning pedigree, so the Twins would have to trust their options in the minors to fill in if/when needed if they sign him. MLBTradeRumors think the Twins will sign him, and I agree that it is a likely option for the Twins front office, and one that I would support.

Andrew Cashner, Tyler Chatwood, Jaime Garcia, Jhoulys Chacin, etc.

There are #4/#5 starters galore in free agency this year. They very in overall ability, but most of them are best at simply eating innings while bringing some level of competition. It is possible for the Twins to go this route and pick up a veteran back end starter, each requiring a 2-3 year contract between $15-$25 million.

I do think the Twins would prefer one of Darvish/Lynn/Cobb, and have the ability to sign one of them. I don't think they would sign one of that trio AND one of these back-end guys, as it blocks their young starters if they keep Kyle Gibson around. So if one of these sorts of pitchers is signed by the Twins, it likely means that they are focusing their attention more on fixing the bullpen.

Potential: Always a chance, but I don't think it's Plan A, or Plan B, or even Plan C.

Bullpen

In the bullpen, the Twins have up and coming talent, but lack a "proven closer" and veteran presence. Do they give their prospects a chance to make it, or do they spend money to bring in more historically dependable arms? There are solid options for any of the moves, so lets look at them:

Wade Davis and Greg Holland

Signing one of the big money, "closer" types would certainly be exciting and fit a need for the Twins, but it likely isn't the best investment for a team with a bevy of relief prospects finally starting to get it together in the minors. With Alan Busenitz, John Curtiss, Gabriel Moya, Mason Melotakis, Tyler Jay, Jake Reed, and more relief prospects working their way up the ranks, the $50-$60 million required to sign these guys would likely be better served going to a starter or offensive pieces, while signing more short-term options to fix the bullpen while the prospects prove themselves in the big leagues.

Potential: Always a possibility, but I don't think it is the route that Falvine will go.

Addison Reed, Mike Minor, Brenden Morrow, Bryan Shaw, Juan Nicasio, etc.

The Twins likely have a higher probability of signing a player from this rung of relievers. Morrow, Shaw and Nicasio would be closer to the lower-$20 million range, which is a more palatable cost in my mind.

Shaw has the connection to Derek Falvey and I think he would be my favorite bullpen signing, as his durability would lend itself to Molitor's tendency to rely on one reliever night in and night out.

Potential: I could see the Twins easily making one of these moves, depending on where else they are putting money this offseason.

Brandon Kintzler and Matt Belisle

Paul Molitor trusted both of these pitchers in 2017, and they both have stated some level of interest in returning. They would be unexciting signings, but would bring back some level of dependability and familiarity, while allowing Molitor to try out his younger arms in high leverage situations.

Potential: I could honestly see Kintzler come back to the Twins with a 2-year, $14 million dollar contract. Even if the Twins shelled out big money for Darvish, another $7 million for a quality bullpen arm isn't a hard sell. Belisle might be back, but for the same money I'd rather take a flier on a younger revival project or Fernando Rodney, who is still in the league somehow.

Thoughts

It is always hard to guess offseason acquisitions—there are so many routes the Twins could take that it makes it impossible to predict. Do they sign Yu Darvish and leave the bullpen alone? Do they sign Lance Lynn and Bryan Shaw? Do they trade the farm for Chris Archer? Do they sign two bullpen arms and some lackluster starting options, trusting the likes of Stephen Gonsalves, Felix Jorge, and Zack Littell to become Major League starting pitchers next season?

The Twins have plenty of options and should have the financial ability to make just about any of those options happen so long as the free agent agrees to play for the team.

My money would be on one of Lynn/Cobb, a second tier reliever like Bryan Shaw, and then another veteran bullpen piece, perhaps someone we know well. It would be a major investment that adds a substantial amount of money to the salary of the 2018 team. Lynn and Cobb both received qualifying offers from their teams, so if they even become free agents the team that signs them will have to give up a draft pick to do so. After this year’s stellar draft, it would be a worthwhile move, in my opinion. The 12-man pitching core to open the season would look something like this:

Starters

1.Santana

2.Berrios

3.Lynn/Cobb

4.Gibson

5.Mejia (with Gonsalves/Jorge/Littell in the wings)

Bullpen

"Closer"- Kintzler

Set up- Rogers

Set up- Hildenberger

Set up- Shaw

Middle Relief- Pressley

Middle Relief- Busenitz

Long Relief- Tyler Duffey

Of course I'm writing this from my couch, not the Twins front office. But this stable of pitchers would be an improvement over last year and is a reasonable expectation for the Twins. The starting rotation would have additional depth while still maintaining a spot for prospects or a veteran on a minor league contract, while the bullpen would be vastly improved.

What do you think about the potential pitching pickups for the Twins?