The hot stove has remained tepid to this point, and while that has been cause for a bit of antsiness among fans and people who care about this news, it also allows us to do what teams are doing with these players — dig in a bit deeper.
So today, we’re taking a look at the power rankings of the players who offer the best fits for the Twins as free agents this offseason with all avenues considered.
- Shohei Ohtani – RHP/LHH – Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
Because of the cost-to-potential ratio here, Ohtani is No. 1 on every team’s ranking by default. He may be a $200 million talent when all is considered, but will sign for less than $3 million while raking in endorsement money to make up some of the difference in the meantime. He didn’t pitch much last year due to ankle and thigh issues, but offers a blistering fastball in the upper 90s with a good split/slider combo. There’s no way to handicap the race at this point, but every team should throw a dart in his direction. For the Twins, he’d start out as the No. 3 but likely ascend to No. 1 in very little time.
- Yu Darvish – RHP – Los Angeles Dodgers
He’s the consensus best starter on the market, and might have more potential than one might think at age 31. He has a diverse repertoire with improving command, and a lot of his issues seem to center around whispers that he tips his pitches. He’s pitched far more like a really great No. 2 than someone who should be paid like a Clayton Kershaw or Max Scherzer, but as far as aces on this market, Darvish is atop the list. Prepare to approach $30 million per year, however.
- Carlos Santana – 1B/DH – Cleveland Indians
Santana is the safest impact bat in the market, and will command far less than guys like Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez because his skill set is predicated on his eye at the plate rather than sexier skills such as power. That eye at the plate is what keeps his value afloat even when he doesn’t have his power game working, as was true in 2015 when he hit just .231/.357/.395. Even still, his OPS+ was 102 and wRC+ 107. He’s considered a capable defender at first base, and can mix-and-match there with Joe Mauer as the latter enters the final year of his deal. Santana would be an ideal fit atop the Twins order — and any order, really — to move Brian Dozier down into a better spot for run production. This move would vault the Twins into the conversation of best AL offense behind the Houston Astros.
- Jake Arrieta – SP – Chicago Cubs
The luster is clearly fading on the 2015 NL Cy Young winner, but even at his low points — as a Cub, that is — he’s a very good and valuable starter. Two years ago he’d have been primed to earn $25 million-plus per year in a contract, and the fact is he probably hasn’t taken that much of a hit even with consecutive years of decline. He turns 32 in March, so there’s still a legit chance he’s got plenty of bullets left, and he’s only thrown 1,161 MLB innings. By comparison, Johnny Cueto — who is almost a month older than Arrieta — has thrown more than 600 more innings. If he signs for $20 million per year, that’s a solid deal. Truthfully, he’ll probably get more than that.
- Logan Morrison – 1B – Tampa Bay Rays
Morrison gets a boost because there’s no qualifying offer tied to him, and he was truly terrific this past season for the Rays. LoMo hit .245/.353/.516 with 38 homers, set a career-high with a 13.5 percent walk rate and successfully traded a few more strikeouts for a big jump in homers. The story is that he nuked his groundball/flyball ratio, scorning the dirt for the sky and never looking back. He may well sign for three years and $30 million and provide more value than Eric Hosmer over that duration.
- Lance Lynn – SP – St. Louis Cardinals
Lynn’s first season back from Tommy John surgery was a bit bumpy, as he allowed too many homers in the first half. He fixed that problem in the second half, only to see his strikeout rate plummet. But the second year back is usually much better for TJ survivors, which is a good sign for Lynn, perpetually one of the more underrated pitchers in the NL. The move to the AL might not be all that friendly, as his strikeout rate (8.5 K/9) doesn’t really match up with his 9.2 swinging-strike rate, and he’s been hit fairly hard by lefties (.257/.356/.427) in his career. He’s by no means an ace, but he has Nos. 2-3 upside and innings-eater floor.
- Alex Cobb – SP – Tampa Bay Rays
Cobb’s return from a nearly two-year absence went about as well as one could reasonably expect, but his future lies in wherever his changeup takes him. It wasn’t as great as it had been in 2017 as beforehand, and he saw his whiff rates plummet as a result. Only three qualified starters had lower swinging-strike rates than Cobb, who typically was in the 9-10 percent range before his injury and is in the 7 percent range after it. He’s never made 30 starts or pitched 180 innings either, so he doesn’t have that track record to fall back on if the stuff doesn’t come all the way back. To Cobb’s credit, it appears he was aware he didn’t have the offspeed in 2017, as he threw more fastballs and curve than ever while having his usage of the changeup.
- Jake McGee – RP – Colorado Rockies
McGee got fully healthy and good at the right time, posting a 3.61 ERA in 57.1 innings (2.93 FIP) with the Rockies on the heels of a fairly ugly 2016 season (4.73 ERA/5.29 FIP). Despite coming from the left side, McGee had a reverse platoon split of sorts last year (.585 v. RHH/.690 v. LHH) and for his career has seen no issues with righties (.599) or lefties (.655). To that end, he’s not a bad fit for a team looking for a closer or late-inning guy who isn’t just a specialist. The velocity on his fastball (94.9 mph in 2017) is pretty much all the way back, though the swinging-strike rates were a bit lower (9.2 percent) than his career mark (11.1). Part of that could be attributed to health, but part of it is that he pretty much just throws fastballs. That was even truer in Colorado, where breaking balls go to die.
- Juan Nicasio – RP – St. Louis Cardinals
This tier of relievers is all pretty clustered, and if the Twins wind up with perhaps two of those listed between here and the “also considered” spot, that’s the path to a pretty good bullpen in addition to what’s already in place. Nicasio had a weird year which saw him pitch well for three teams, including being dealt twice in the span of a week surrounding the waiver trade deadline. Nicasio fanned a batter per inning, didn’t walk anyone and induced a league-average groundball rate. As far as numbers that can lurk under the surface for relievers, he held opposing batters to a .217/.277/.333 line and wasn’t terrible against righties (.664 OPS) or lefties (.544). He throws hard, has good swinging-strike rates (10.7 percent this year) and doesn’t appear to be absurdly overvalued by the marketplace. He might be the best fit if the Twins look for a closer on the open market, stuff-wise.
- Pat Neshek – RP – Colorado Rockies
Neshek was among the handful of most valuable relievers in the National League last year, as he posted a 1.59 ERA between stops with the Phillies and Rockies. He fanned 10 batters per nine, walked less than one and didn’t show any significant platoon issues — a big deal for a pitcher with his mechanics. Righties hit just .201/.213/.273 against Neshek and lefties weren’t much better at .230/.258/.356. He’d be higher on this list if he hadn’t just turned 37, but it’s not like his skill set is predicated on things that age hurts too much, either. Deception plays up, and it’s time to reunite the Twins and Neshek and make this thing right.
- Bryan Shaw – RP – Cleveland Indians
Shaw is who he is at this point — a sturdy-as-hell middle reliever who can pitch every other day but would probably be miscast as much more than a seventh-inning guy. He’s the kind of guy who is a fit for virtually any bullpen, though potential overuse could loom as an issue in the future, as he’s led the AL in appearances in three of the last four years. FIP hasn’t loved him for a few years, but on the surface there seems to be quite a bit to like. He’s good for 8-9 strikeouts per inning, is pretty stingy with walks and keeps the ball on the ground. Homers have been a bit of an issue but not terribly egregious, and his repertoire — basically just sliders and cutters — has remained steady for a few years now. He might not be a good fit to close, but he can help anyone. That will drive the price up.
- Brandon Kintzler – RP – Washington Nationals
Kintzler was exactly who he was for the Nationals as he was for the Twins. He doesn’t really strike anyone out, but uses the bowling ball to get grounder after grounder. He’d be a terrific fit for the Twins to work earlier innings when starters get into jams and need a double play, but if the team also wants a stopgap closer, he’s not the worst fit based on how he handled the role beforehand. Either way, he’s a stand-up guy and a hell of a good pitcher, and can fill just about anyone role the Twins ask him to. It would not be a mistake to bring him back on a two-year deal.
Also considered: RP Mike Minor, Kansas City Royals; RP Addison Reed, New York Mets; RP Brandon Morrow, Los Angeles Dodgers; SP Tyler Chatwood, Colorado Rockies;