Minnesota Twins free agent target profile: Yu Darvish
The 2017-2018 offseason is here for the Minnesota Twins. Who could be Twins be targeting in the free agent market?
Now that the Minnesota Twins have entered the offseason, they are looking to improve the roster through trades and through free agent signings. In this series, we’re going to examine individual players that the Minnesota Twins could have interest in this offseason through free agency.
We will not have any specific order to which player we highlight in this series, but we will look at each player’s past history, why he would be a good fit for the Twins, and, last, the sort of contract likely to be required to sign the player.
We will start with the consensus top player on the market:
Yu Darvish, RHP
Darvish was arguably the best Japanese pitcher that ever came to the United States to the major leagues. He began pitching in the country’s highest league at 18 years old, and his 19 year old season with Nippon Ham was the last season he had over a 2 ERA in Japan. His final five seasons in Japan, his highest ERA was 1.88.
Darvish came to the Texas Rangers in 2012. In his first season, he won 16 games and struck out 221 games in 191 1/3 innings. He was an All Star each of his first 3 seasons, making a combined 83 starts, throwing 545 1/3 innings, with a 3.27 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and a 218/680 BB/K.
Darvish made just 22 starts in 2014 before his elbow gave way and required Tommy John surgery. He missed all of the 2015 season and only made 17 starts in the 2016 season, showing his previous dominant ways, but still not back to 100%.
Darvish in 2017 made 31 starts in his first full season after Tommy John, throwing 186 2/3 innings, with a 3.86 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and a 58/209 BB/K ratio between the Rangers and the Dodgers.
While many remember Darvish’s difficult World Series starts for the Dodgers this season, what they don’t remember is that just to get the Dodgers to the World Series, Darvish had thrown twice, totaling 11 1/3 innings, allowing just 2 runs combined and striking out 14 while only walking 1. In fact, the 2 walks he had in the World Series matched the amount he’d allowed in the playoffs in his career before the World Series in 23 innings of playoff pitching.
How he would fit?
Darvish has absolutely elite stuff. His slider is among the best in all of baseball, and it was the slider’s inability to break that hurt him so badly in the World Series. Of course, many pitchers mentioned difficulty with hard breaking pitches, so he was not alone in that issue.
Darvish turned 31 in August of this past season. He will be in his early 30s for the majority of the contract he seeks this offseason. He’s also been a guy who can be relied upon to pitch deep into games. He’s averaged 6 1/3 innings pitched per start over his career. For comparison, Ervin Santana averaged just a fraction more (though not an entire full out more) than Darvish’s career rate in his excellent 2017 season for the Twins.
Darvish is also an elite starting pitcher. Using Baseball Reference’s Play Index, only Max Scherzer and the late Jose Fernandez have a higher strikeout rate than Darvish’s 29.7% rate among starters since 2012.
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Many places have placed Darvish’s demands in the 5-6 year range with a likely annual average value of $25-30 million being the expected figure in order to sign him.
That would not be surprising at all, and honestly, at the price of pitching, Darvish’s skill level very well may be worth just that, but one thing for Minnesota Twins fans to consider when evaluating a deal like this is that the team has a short window where the young core of the team (Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, etc.) are still going to be cheap and not yet in arbitration.
After 2018, Joe Mauer, Brian Dozier, and Eduardo Escobar are all free agents, while Ervin Santana has a $14 million team opti, on. Even if the Twins pay the $1 million to buy out Santana’s option, that would be upt to roughly $50 million less on the books for 2019 than on 2018. After 2019, Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana (if his option is picked up), Jason Castro, and Kyle Gibson will all be free agents, trimming another roughly $40-45 million from the payroll.
The Minnesota Twins could structure their offer to Darvish to heavily load his contract into 2019-2020 as the young players first hit arbitration in those seasons and would still be quite cheap.
Something along the lines of a 4-5 year base offer with an option for a 6th year with annual value reaching $27 million and loaded such that in 2019 and 2020, he’s earning $30 million or more could be a way to structure a contract to entice Darvish.
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Should the Twins do it?
In a word, yes. The Twins absolutely need a guy to lead the rotation. Darvish is the type of guy who absolutely can do that. The other major thing that bringing in Darvish can do is that he can be a possible influence on where Shohei Ohtani may sign, and bringing in both would be a huge boon for the Twins rotation.