FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Major League Baseball free-agent market of 2017-18 will be remembered as historically glacial for players looking for extravagant long-term contracts. But to the bargain-hunting Twins, it’s been a bonfire like none other.
The Twins on Saturday agreed to a one-year contract that guarantees only $12 million to former St. Louis righthander Lance Lynn, one of the more accomplished pitchers in this free-agent class and another clear upgrade to what was one of the AL’s worst rotations a year ago. According to two sources with knowledge of the deal, the contract also contains bonus clauses that could pay Lynn an additional $2 million.
Lynn’s signing might also short-circuit what was shaping up as a heated competition, among at least five candidates, for a spot in the Twins rotation.
Once he passes a physical, Lynn will become the seventh free agent signed during this offseason by the Twins, an unheard-of level of player acquisition for a franchise normally reticent about plunging into the open market, and a move that will make this year’s team the costliest in franchise history, by far.
And yet Lynn, like Logan Morrison, the first baseman who signed with the Twins on Feb. 28, represents an amazing discount on his original asking price. The website Baseball Trade Rumors ranked Lynn as its ninth-most-prized free agent, predicting he would sign for $56 million over four seasons.
Instead, the Twins receive a 30-year-old who has been a double-digit winner with the Cardinals five times, and owns a 3.38 ERA in 183 career games, at almost 80 percent off. Lynn missed the 2016 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery to replace a ligament in his right elbow, but he bounced back to start 33 games for St. Louis last year, going 11-8 with a 3.43 ERA.
Lynn became a free agent in November but has remained unsigned during a shockingly slow market for veteran free agents. The righthander, who declined a $17.4 million qualifying offer from St. Louis in November, apparently decided to accept a one-year deal from the Twins and re-enter the market again next winter.
He will join Morrison, relievers Zach Duke, Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed, and fellow starters Anibal Sanchez and Michael Pineda as free-agent acquisitions who could cost the Twins as little as $54.5 million overall, or barely one-third as much as the Padres committed to Eric Hosmer. Only Reed and Pineda are guaranteed any money from the Twins in 2019, and none are under contract for 2020.
Derek Falvey, the Twins chief baseball officer, said upon signing Morrison to a pennies-on-the-dollar $6.5 million contract that he didn’t expect another signing this spring — but he couldn’t rule it out, either. “Until we’re playing games, there are conversations to be had, and we’re not going to shut them out. I’m not going to turn my phone off,” said Falvey, who was unavailable for comment Saturday. “We’ll stay in touch.”
Adding Lynn plumps the Twins’ 2018 payroll to roughly $130 million, shattering their previous high of $113.5 million on Opening Day 2011. That will likely rank about 18th in MLB this year.
There is an additional cost to this pickup, however. Under MLB rules, because Lynn was tendered, and declined, a $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Cardinals in November, the Twins will forfeit their third-round pick, No. 95 overall, in next June’s draft. (The Twins keep picks 20, 60 and 75, however.) They will also lose $500,000 in their international free-agent budget.
Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson and Jake Odorizzi, the righthander acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay shortly after training camp opened, figure to occupy three spots, with Gibson perhaps holding the most tenuous grasp on a job. Ervin Santana will return from surgery on his pitching hand in May, the Twins expect, and they will mostly use a four-man rotation until he’s back.
Lynn now slots into that rotation, too, a development that seemingly leaves Adalberto Mejia, Phil Hughes, Tyler Duffey, Anibal Sanchez and rookies Stephen Gonsalves and Aaron Slegers without a regular job with the Twins.