Minnesota Twins: If not Yu Darvish, then who?

The Minnesota Twins continue to be in the running for top free agent starter Yu Darvish, but what happens if Darvish chooses someone else?

The Minnesota Twins and the rest of baseball continue to wait and see where Yu Darvish will choose as his new home. While the Twins still appear to be right in the thick of contention for Darvish’s services, the reality is that there are still clubs like the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers hanging around that may add just a little more intrigue to a big money free agent like Darvish than the Twins do.

So this post does the unfortunate of looking at who should the Twins be trying to sign if it is not Minnesota that Darvish chooses as his destination. That leaves the Twins as part of the mad dash that will seemingly ensue to sign one of the next three big-name starting pitcher free agents: Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, or Lance Lynn.

At the beginning of the offseason, MLB Trade Rumors projected that Arrieta would sign a 4 year and $100 million contract. That contract combined with strong signs that Arrieta could be due to regression, I would hope the Twins would be passing on the former Cub. Leaving the Twins with Cobb and Lynn as the next in the line of free agent starters left out there.

Going back to contracts, these two were projected by MLB Trade Rumors to sign similar contracts with Lynn at 4 years and $56 million and Cobb at 4 years and $48 million. Both pitchers also will be in their second season post-Tommy John surgery and have draft pick composition attached to whoever signs them since they both rejected qualifying offers. So with the cost for these pitchers being about the same, who should the Twins sign?

The choice should be Alex Cobb. Now before sitting down to put this together, I didn’t really think it was even close between Lynn and Cobb. If Lynn ended up being the guy it wouldn’t be a bad signing and I like it more than I originally thought. He will often be able to give his team 30 starts and push for 200 innings for a season. Cobb just seems to have more upside and the sort of upside to challenge Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios at top of the Twins rotation.

In 2013 and 2014 Cobb put together some very solid seasons. He put together two seasons where he had an under 3 ERA and a FIP in the low 3’s. Combined with that he was also able to have a K/9 over 8 in each of those seasons. Of course, Cobb in his season just after surgery wasn’t able to jump right back into what he was in those previous but there were plenty of positive signs as he closed out the season.

Cobb’s K/9 went from 5.93 in the first half of the season to 7.31 in the second half. His strike percentage also rose from 15.8% in the first half of 2017 to 20.0% in the last half. Cobb’s xFIP also improved from 4.64 in the first half to 3.52 in the second half. For comparison, in Cobb’s best seasons of 2013 and 2014 his xFIP was 3.02 and 3.33 respectively.

Since surgery, Cobb has also begun to lean heavily on his curveball. It has produced some of the most movement in the majors as far as curveballs go, closing out the season with a vertical movement of about -8.7 inches. That puts his curveball in the same class as guys like Trevor Bauer, Clayton Kershaw, and Drew Pomeranz as far as movement. It also has helped Cobb to continue to induce a high level of grounders closing out the season in the second half with a 52.3% groundball rate over all of his pitches. (Please go read Travis Sawchick’s post on Cobb at FanGraphs from September. He helped me become that much more optimistic about Cobb.)

Combining that surge in the second half with the fact that Cobb has simply proven to be effective playing a majority of games against the American League East makes him an intriguing player for the Twins to sign if Darvish chooses to take his talents elsewhere. Lynn or Arrieta would still be welcomed compared to spots 3-5 in the Twins rotation as they currently stand, but if I had my choice it is Cobb.