Even before they arrive in Orlando for this week's MLB general managers meetings, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine know what they'll be bringing home.
"My experience is that we'll all jump into the free-agent market, and we'll find the demands are very high. So we'll turn to the trade market," said Levine, the Twins general manager. "Then we find the trade demands are too high, so we go back to the free-agent market. There's going to be a few swings of this pendulum before we see some real action. But we have to start swinging that pendulum."
They will do that starting Monday, in three days of meetings at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, just a mile away from the site of next month's winter meetings at the Disney World Dolphin Resort. Officials from all 30 teams will meet in general sessions in the mornings — expect discussion of a pitch clock to dominate those meetings — then hold one-on-one talks with agents and each other as roster-building for 2018 becomes the focus.
"Between [chief baseball officer] Derek and I, we have reached out to all 29 clubs, so I think we have a pretty good understanding of general needs and surpluses walking into the offseason," Levine said. "From those conversations, we've identified target teams for us to spend a little more time face-to-face with down in Orlando. But by and large, this is still the preliminary stage of the offseason, more about fact-finding than active pursuits."
Still, it's a stark contrast to the Twins' goals at last fall's GM meetings in Phoenix, which were held just a week after Falvey and Levine formally took over Minnesota's baseball operations. They spent much of those meetings getting a crash course on their own players from assistant GM Rob Antony, and fleshing out their own vision for restructuring the front office, not the roster.
"Last year, we were getting a total immersion in everything Twins. A year later, we're much farther down that path," Levine said. "There's still work to be done internally, but our focus and attention now will be to try to walk out of these meetings with more knowledge relative to means of improving our club."
At last year's GM meetings, the Twins also laid the groundwork for signing their main offseason target, catcher Jason Castro, who agreed to a three-year contract before November was over. Levine said the quick-strike move was a reflection of the Twins' glaring need and the lack of appealing options beyond Castro. Don't necessarily expect anything to happen that quickly this winter.
"It's hard to prognosticate. I'd say we're in position to strike quickly if the right deal is there," Levine said. "This winter, we see pitching as our primary focus, but there is a broader wealth of pitching talent in the free-agent and trade markets. So it doesn't necessarily require us to be quite so aggressive."
Another topic that will be raised in Orlando: the posting process that will determine what team signs Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani. MLB is negotiating a new procedure with Nippon Professional Baseball, since their old agreement expired last month, but it's possible that Ohtani, who is both a dominant pitcher and powerful hitter in Japan and would likely receive bids of more (perhaps far more) than $100 million on the open market, will only be able to sign under limits imposed by MLB's international bonus system.
If that's the case, the Twins would be in position to spend a reported $3.25 million, according to figures obtained by the Associated Press, or more than all but the Rangers and Yankees. So the Twins "are doing as much homework as any club would, in recognition of his unique abilities," Levine said. "But it's yet to be determined what will even drive his decision-making process, so there's no reason to speculate yet. But we would welcome an opportunity to be part of the conversation."
And even if Ohtani isn't interested in Minnesota, Levine pointed out, there still might be a way to take advantage of the scramble to sign him. International bonus money is tradable under MLB rules — indeed, the Twins' total was inflated by $500,000 received from the Nationals in the Brandon Kintzler trade last July — and if teams sense an opportunity to sign the Japanese star, "those funds could become a trade chip with a team trying to better its position. So we are trying to use them as creatively as possible."