The Minnesota Twins have had no shortage of baited lines that failed to reel in a big fish in free agency. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have found themselves winding in empty line after empty line, especially when it comes to starting pitching targets. Maybe the worms on their hooks weren’t big enough, or the fish preferred to explore warmer parts of the pond. Maybe they couldn’t get their line out into the water fast enough, as seems to be the case in this year’s frantic action that took place before the lockout.
No matter the case, the fish fry that’s scheduled for Target Field in 2022 looks to be short on, well, fish.
But a few redeeming qualities make Minnesota’s situation different from a fishing boat coming back to shore empty-handed. First, they have other items on the menu that are more than capable of filling the table (i.e., a strong offensive core). But more importantly, the fact that they missed out on a few fish doesn’t mean that Minnesota can never catch them in the future.
With that said, here are a few names that the Twins missed out on in free agency in the past who could be strong trade candidates for this year’s rotation.
The Twins were known to be one of Darvish’s biggest suitors before the 2018 season. Darvish was coming off a great season with the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers, and he would have provided some much-needed help in the front of the rotation. Minnesota offered a contract worth at least five years and $100 million, but he opted to bite on the line that went to the North Side of Chicago. The Cubs ended up pulling him in with a six-year, $129 million deal, but they traded him to the San Diego Padres as a salary dump midway through the contract. He spent last year with the Friars, who are on the hook for the remaining two years and roughly $43 million of the pact.
Depending on what they’d have to give up, that contract could be a lucrative fit for the Twins. The parts of Darvish’s game that initially enticed Minnesota’s front office are still very much there, and a short-term deal for a 35-year old pitcher who has already had Tommy John surgery once is definitely preferable. Last season, Darvish showed that he still has the ability to rack up strikeouts (10.77 K/9) and his 166.1 innings pitched would have led the Twins by almost 40%. They also have to like Darvish’s ability to miss bats with his fastball, as made evident by the fact that opponents had a miss rate of 30% on those pitches last season (fourth-best in MLB according to Inside Edge). Pair that with his heavy arsenal of off-speed and breaking offerings, and it’s easy to see the makings of a frontline workhorse.
Now, the Padres have some good depth in their starting rotation, but they wouldn’t be looking to offload Darvish just to cut salary. The return would need to be worthwhile, or the Twins would possibly need to take on some money in the form of another less-desirable contract to boot. Maybe the Padres could include someone along the lines of Wil Myers to make the cost in outgoing prospects lighter. Would the Twins be on board?
Another big fish that didn’t want to leave warmer waters, Bumgarner has seen a significant decrease in production since signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks before the 2020 season. In the last two years, he has a 5.07 ERA (5.20 FIP) and a whopping 37 home runs allowed. The long ball has been his Achilles heel with his new club, with many projections showing even further regression in 2022 (1.72 HR/9 from Steamer, 1.75 HR/9 from ZiPS).
The problem lies in his slider – the pitch considered to be a forte for Twins’ pitching coach Wes Johnson. The good news on Bumgarner’s slider is that opponents have swung at that pitch 57% of the time that he has thrown it since 2020 (sixth-highest in MLB). The bad news is they’ve only missed that pitch at a 23% clip (10th-lowest in MLB). They make contact far too often, and the ball goes a long way when they do. However, his fastball is still quite effective, especially when he hits his spot. Last year, opponents hit a mere .137 against his elevated fastballs (top third of the strike zone and above), good for seventh-best in MLB among qualified starters.
If Johnson and the Twins can work their mojo on reconstructing his slider and pair it with a chaser fastball, could MadBum return to form? Even with the fog of the last two campaigns hanging over his head, his track record as a three-time world champion could benefit Minnesota’s young rotation. He also has a strong track record of good health for the most part. He’s also just 32 years old, which seems crazy considering the fact that he was on the mound during the 2010 World Series.
Unlike the Padres, the Diamondbacks are not in win-now mode. They were tied with the Baltimore Orioles for the worst record in baseball last year, and a near-full rebuild seems inevitable. Arizona might appreciate a salary dump if they could make it work, especially if they get some young prospects that more closely align with their competitive timeline. It’s a large bill as it currently stands, with Bumgarner still owed $54 million for the next three years. Can the Twins get the Snakes to eat enough of that contract to make it worthwhile for both clubs?
Neither of these pitchers was involved in Plan A for the Twins heading into this off-season. Plan A swam away too quickly before Falvey and Levine could get their lines in the water: Marcus Stroman to the Chicago Cubs, Kevin Gausman to the Toronto Blue Jays, and Robbie Ray to the Seattle Mariners. Instead, Darvish and Bumgarner would present an opportunity to snag two fish that other teams want to throw back into the stream. Maybe it’s a long shot to think the Twins would make a deal for one of these formerly prized catches, but it’s something to think about while fans sit around watching their bobbers.