11:15 PM ET: Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that the Twins and Willingham are “very close” to a three-year, $21 million contract.
UPDATE III: Hold up. Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com and Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune are both hearing that a deal between the Twins and Willingham isn’t done. What’s more, Christensen reports that talks aren’t dead with Michael Cuddyer. This could get interesting.
UPDATE II: Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com reports that the Twins and Willingham have agreed to a contract, pending a physical. No word on the exact terms, but Crasnick hears that it’s a multi-year contract.
UPDATE: Not only are the Indians out of the mix, Rosenthal now reports that the Twins are “near an agreement” with Willingham.
Cleveland has been linked to Josh Willingham for weeks now, but Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reported this afternoon that the Indians are no longer pursuing the free agent outfielder and now team president Mark Shapiro has made that very clear on Twitter.
Shapiro made a couple tweets urging fans to be patient despite the Indians’ lack of offseason activity and then responded to a question specifically about Willingham like this:
Nothing is official yet, of course, but it seems pretty unlikely that Shapiro would be willing to make a comment like that about Willingham if there was any chance of him signing with the Indians.
And if the Indians are truly out of the mix for Willingham that leaves the Twins as heavy favorites.
To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.
So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”
When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.
Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.