Let’s assume, for the sake of argument and positive thinking, that the Twins’ offseason pursuit of pitching is not akin to Elon Musk’s pursuit of space exploration.
Musk, the eccentric and very interesting billionaire with a penchant for turning science fiction dreams into reality, recently launched a rocket into outer space — along with a red Tesla sports car carrying a mannequin. The car, it is said, should settle into a predictable if rather aimless orbit around the sun — great theater, to be sure, but something we will probably forget about as reality calcifies around us once again.
There are skeptical Twins fans who might suggest the Twins’ aggressive attempt to add top-notch pitching this offseason is on a similar track — that the pursuit is nothing but a slow orbit around a cluster of game-changing starting pitchers, with the Twins getting close enough to know what’s available while forces keep them from actually reaching any of them.
Being cynical is no fun, though being skeptical is a solid default position. A team can be earnest in a pursuit and still come up short. That’s how the free market works, and that’s how it seemed to work when Yu Darvish broke some local hearts by signing with the Cubs this weekend. They gave him more money and a longer term than the Twins were reportedly offering. Yu can’t be faulted for taking that, nor can you fault the Twins for being wary of giving a six-year deal to a pitcher who will turn 32 before the end of this season.
The more logical pursuit all along for the Twins has been via the trade market, where they have the type of leverage in terms of prospects that they lack when battling bigger-spending teams with larger margins of error in free agency. Three of the Twins’ top 10 prospects, per Baseball America, are shortstops. Depending on how they feel about Jorge Polanco’s future and a Brian Dozier extension, Minnesota could be set in the middle with Polanco and Dozier for a while. They also have major league outfielder Max Kepler — in that sweet spot of productive already but with a lot of years of team salary control left — to dangle.
Our La Velle E. Neal III reports the Twins are doing just that, having made an offer to Tampa Bay in an attempt to pry away Chris Archer. If you’re willing to look past Archer’s 51-63 career record — and you should be, since much of it was compiled on bad Rays’ teams — you’ll basically find a younger, cheaper version of Darvish.
Archer has a career ERA of 3.63 and a career FIP — like ERA, but subtracting measures like surrounding defense that are beyond a pitcher’s control — of 3.46. He’s logged at least 200 innings, with at least 233 strikeouts, each of the past three seasons. The righthander’s fastball routinely hits 96 mph. He’s the kind of pitcher you would stop short of calling an ace because he doesn’t put it together game after game. But when he’s on, which is plenty often enough, he’s borderline unfair.
Home runs are a concern — 57 allowed in the last two seasons, and while they don’t travel far enough to hit Musk’s car in outer space they tend to fly high and far because of his velocity — but one would have to think he’d benefit plenty from Byron Buxton chasing down everything that stays in the field of play.
Archer is slated to make roughly $34 million over the next four years, though the last two are club options totaling $20 million. If he takes a sudden turn, a team could walk away. If he stays on this course or even gets better, he’s a bargain at way less than half the annual value of Darvish’s deal. One might even think based on that contract that the Twins, if they could stomach parting with Kepler (whom the Rays reportedly like in a deal) and other prospects, could afford another high-upside pitcher in free agency either this year or next year in addition to adding Archer.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, the dance continues even as pitchers and catchers get ready to report Tuesday to Fort Myers. The Twins train about 3.5 hours from Cape Canaveral, the site of Musk’s rocket launch. We’ll see if they can chart an unfamiliar path to acquiring a top-end pitcher or if they get stuck in the orbit predicted by the cynics.