Despite semi-recent chatter around the involvement of the Rangers, Yankees, and Dodgers, the primary suitors for free agent starter Yu Darvish are still probably the Cubs, Brewers, and Twins.
All three teams have plans for contention in 2018 and at least one vacancy in their rotation. But now, one of those teams’ plans may have changed:
— Dustin Morse (@morsecode) February 6, 2018
Today, the Minnesota Twins announced the successful finger surgery of starting pitcher Ervin Santana – a surgery that was unexpected this offseason and based on an injury that only recently came to light as he began ramping up for Spring Training.
In other words, whatever the Twins were or were not planning to do in the free agent market in the past couple months, things probably just changed.
But in what direction?
One way to read this news – as it pertains to the Twins’ pursuit of Yu Darvish, who has long been rumored to be their top target – is seen here, by Baseball Prospectus editor Aaron Gleeman:
Twins just announced that Ervin Santana is out 2-3 months following surgery on his right middle finger. Three months from today would be early May. Rotation help was already needed, so this makes that very obvious. https://t.co/Bkw0IszT3e
— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) February 6, 2018
Essentially, with an even bigger hole in the rotation than previously expected, the impetus for the Twins to get something done with Darvish (or another starting pitcher) is larger than ever. Perhaps that’ll force them to up their offer and get something done, right?
Well, not so fast. That is certainly one very plausible way to look at this, but it’s not the only way.
In the Twins’ release, we learned that Santana will be sidelined for 10-12 weeks from today, which brings us, conservatively, to May 1st. But it’s not like he can just pick up a ball on May 1 and step into a Major Leauge rotation. He’ll require at least some ramp up time to get back to his usual self. Plus, given that he hasn’t actually gotten up to speed yet this year – pitchers and catchers don’t report until next week – it’s not like that’ll be a quick tuneup. Even if everything heals perfectly, he’ll basically only be as good/strong as he would’ve been in the first week (or so) of Spring Training.
In other words, the Twins cannot expect him to come back and produce any time before the end of May/beginning of June.
All of which is to say this could plausibly change the Twins’ plans in the other direction. Santana was the Twins’ best starting pitcher last season and projected to be their second best pitcher in 2018. Losing him for nearly half a season is significant and might even force the Twins to reconsider how aggressive they’ll be in free agency at this time.
The Twins are already in a division with the Cleveland Indians (projected for 93 wins in 2018 – third most in MLB), and, before the Santana news, they were projected to go 81-81. If they lost even a win or two off of their internal projections, the strong urge to make an organization-altering commitment to an arm like Darvish might all but evaporate.
At a minimum, you’d think this would make the Twins feel a sense of urgency to add from that lower tier of starter free agency (paging Jaime Garcia!), perhaps quickly, so they don’t have their feet held to the fire if they *do* continue to engage Darvish.
UPDATE: Brett here, and I’m glad we slipped that Jaime Garcia part in there at the end, because:
Per multiple sources, #mntwins continue to show interest in free agent LHP Jaime Garcia. 31-year-old veteran won his only start for them last July before they flipped him to #Yankees for 2 young arms. Went 5-10, 4.41 in 27 starts overall last year.
— Mike Berardino (@MikeBerardino) February 7, 2018