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Thad Levine: ‘Yu Darvish is a priority for us’

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The Twins are prepared to make a play for free agent right-hander Yu Darvish and two-way star Shohei Ohtani, according to comments made by general manager Thad Levine on Sunday. While the club isn’t the presumed frontrunner in the Ohtani sweepstakes, they still have a significant amount of bonus pool space remaining and could make a compelling case for the 23-year-old’s services when he’s posted next month.

“He’s a unique free agent, but we don’t know a lot about him personally yet,” Levine told MLB Network Radio’s Jim Duquette. “It’s exciting for us because we have a chance to sign a player like him […] He’s a top priority for us.”

Darvish, meanwhile, could easily command one of the biggest contracts this winter. The 31-year-old right-hander worked a collective 10-12 record in 31 starts for the 2017 Rangers and Dodgers, supplementing his efforts with a 3.86 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 10.1 SO/9 over 186 2/3 innings. Over five full seasons in the major leagues, the righty has amassed 19.0 fWAR, four All-Star nominations, three 200-strikeout campaigns and a strikeout rate that has never dipped below 10.0 SO/9. As the top starting pitcher currently on the market, he’s projected to attract a multiyear deal upwards of $150 million.

Of course, Darvish and Ohtani won’t be the Twins’ only targets this offseason. Levine said that he’s been in contact with the agents for free agent starters Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, as well as several back-end bullpen arms. Arrieta will also command a pretty penny in free agency, but Lynn and Cobb represent solid starters with much lower price tags and could easily boost a pitching staff that finished 22nd in the league in 2017.

What do the losers of the Gerrit Cole derby do now?

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Gerrit Cole is now a New York Yankee. Nine years and $324 million make that so. But though the Yankees are the only team who gets him, they weren’t the only team interested in him. So let’s take a look at what the losers of the Gerrit Cole derby — the Dodgers and the Angels — can do now that they know they’ve lost.

Dodgers

The Dodgers were hopeful they had a shot due to Cole’s Los Angeles ties. Welp, that didn’t pan out. Which is not a shock. I’m struggling to think of the last time that whole “he’s from [place] so he’ll want to sign with [team near place]” thing worked out. It didn’t happen with CC Sabathia in the Bay Area. It didn’t happen with Mark Teixeira in Baltimore. It didn’t even work out with Brandon Webb in Cincinnati. Money talks, geography walks.

But the Dodgers wanted Cole. They wanted to bolster a pitching staff that has relied on an aging and now free agent Rich Hill and on free agent Hyun-Jin Ryu. There’s a hole to fill, and without Cole available to fill that hole, they’ll have to do something. What is the something they can do?

How about sign their chief rival’s last big pitching star?

It’s certainly a decent plan. But it’s one that might get expensive for Los Angeles. USA Today reported on Monday that Bumgarner was seeking five years and $100 million-plus. Some raised their eyebrows at that report, but given how much Stephen Strasburg and Cole commanded, it seems downright reasonable now. That’s especially the case given that the Giants — despite being on the brink of a rebuild — probably don’t want to see their franchise hero sign with the hated Dodgers:

So it’ll be a bidding war. A war that will make Madison Bumgarner a very large amount of money.

 

Angels

The Angels made no secret of their desire to land Cole. Joe Maddon talked openly about him in his press conference here at the Winter Meetings on Monday. Cole talked openly during the 2019 season, and since it ended, about his connection to Orange County and the Big A.

But the Angels didn’t have the talent to entice Cole and to make him believe that they could contend like the Yankees can. If they made a competitive offer — and we don’t know if they did — they still would’ve had to convince him that they could win. And, really, there is no real basis to believe that they could make a credible case for that.

So where do the Angels go?

General Manager Billy Eppler said on Tuesday that the Angels did not have Gerrit Cole tunnel vision and that they could spend in excess of $20 million a year on multiple players, none of which had to be Cole. On Tuesday the Angels shed the contract of Zack Cozart and, with his $12 million+ and roster spot opened up, the Halos are said to be interested in third baseman Anthony Rendon or, as a fallback, Josh Donaldson.

As for pitching, the Angels will likely prove to be competition for  Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu and perhaps free agent Dallas Keuchel. They could also pursue trade options such as affordable pitchers like Miami’s Caleb Smith or Detroit’s Matthew Boyd or less-affordable — but less-costly in a trade — options like David Price, who the Red Sox were rumored to be shopping in the name of salary relief. Which is to say, the Angels have options, even if their top option is off the table.

But both they and their counterparts up in Los Angeles County, now have to go back to the drawing board now that Gerrit Cole is New York bound.