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Musical chairs: Pitching market takes shape

Darvish, Arrieta, Lynn, Cobb lead top tier of free-agent starting pitchers
MLB.com @feinsand

The offseason arms race has been more of a jog to this point, but thanks to Yu Darvish and his social media game, things could be picking up soon.

Darvish threw out the existence of a mystery team that is in contention for his services after a report listed the Rangers, Cubs, Astros, Twins and Yankees as the five finalists. The Dodgers are believed to be that team, and while the Brewers might not be in the mix for Darvish, Milwaukee remains in the hunt for a big arm to slot toward the top of its rotation.

The offseason arms race has been more of a jog to this point, but thanks to Yu Darvish and his social media game, things could be picking up soon.

Darvish threw out the existence of a mystery team that is in contention for his services after a report listed the Rangers, Cubs, Astros, Twins and Yankees as the five finalists. The Dodgers are believed to be that team, and while the Brewers might not be in the mix for Darvish, Milwaukee remains in the hunt for a big arm to slot toward the top of its rotation.

As of Friday, only one starting pitcher (Tyler Chatwood) had signed a free-agent deal worth at least $30 million, while only one other (Mike Minor) has topped the $20 million mark.

Hot Stove Tracker

The biggest arms -- Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb -- all remain unsigned, though it figures to be a seven-team race for the four right-handers.

Then there's the trade market, which has already been buzzing with the possibility of Gerrit Cole changing teams. Could a team overwhelm the Rays for Chris Archer? Ditto for the Blue Jays and Marcus Stroman?

Which of these teams in need of an arm is most desperate for a top starter? Which club is in position to spend enough -- in terms of dollars or prospects -- to land one of the big four? What other factors will come into play as the pitchers figure out their next moves?

Let's take a look at the contenders:

Twins: Following their surprise Wild Card berth last season, the Twins have made no secret of their desire to add a top arm to their rotation. Darvish appears to be their top choice, and with the Yankees and Dodgers both keeping close tabs on the luxury-tax threshold, Minnesota -- which has no guaranteed contracts on the books beyond 2019 -- could be a surprise winner in the sweepstakes for the 31-year-old right-hander, who has history with general manager Thad Levine from their time in Texas. If the Twins aren't able to land Darvish, they seem intent on securing one of the three other top arms.

Video: Twins may look to Lynn, Cobb as Darvish backup plan

Yankees: Having already re-signed CC Sabathia to a one-year, $10 million deal this winter, the Yankees don't have an obvious need for a starter. Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery would make up the rotation if the season started today, and while GM Brian Cashman would like to add another arm, it's unlikely that the Yankees will pay big bucks for a starter unless they're able to unload Jacoby Ellsbury and a significant portion of his contract. A trade for a starter -- Cole, perhaps -- appears to be the more likely scenario.

Video: Yanks made, then retracted offer to Yu after 48 hours

Cubs: Chicago inked Chatwood to a three-year, $38 million deal this winter, filling the rotation spot vacated by John Lackey. Now, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer must figure out what to do with Arrieta's spot; whether that's bringing back the 2015 National League Cy Young winner or replacing him with another available arm. The Cubs could be the Twins' biggest competition for Darvish if they decide they'd rather have him than Arrieta, though a reunion with the latter remains plausible. Cobb also is reportedly a prime target for Chicago.

Video: Cubs looking to round out final starting rotation

Astros: Houston appeared close to a trade with the Pirates for Cole this week, and while no deal came to fruition, the two sides might still revisit the situation. Darvish has reportedly put the Astros on his list of finalists, so that remains a possibility, as well. With Dallas Keuchel one year from free agency, bringing in another big arm might be Houston's way of making a push for a repeat in 2018 while also protecting itself from the prospect of Keuchel leaving in a year.

Video: Bucs continue to keep contact with Astros, Yankees

Rangers: Darvish would certainly have little trouble adapting to life back in Texas, where he spent the first five-plus years of his MLB career before he was traded to the Dodgers last summer. But the Rangers seem unlikely to shell out the money necessary to land Darvish, making such a reunion unlikely. Texas has already inked Minor and Doug Fister and traded for Matt Moore to bolster the rotation this offseason, making another move for a starter improbable.

Video: Even with Minor, Rangers rotation needs help

Dodgers: Darvish's dreadful World Series performance was initially thought to be enough to keep the Dodgers from trying to bring him back, but Los Angeles seems interested in retaining the right-hander. The Dodgers are trying to remain below the luxury-tax threshold, which could prevent them from making a big free-agent splash to help the rotation, one that already features Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu, with top prospect Walker Buehler knocking on the door.

Video: With or without Darvish, Dodgers' rotation still deep

Brewers: Like the Twins, the Brewers were a surprise contender last season. Unlike their Minnesota counterparts, Milwaukee didn't get to the postseason, prompting GM David Stearns to publicly declare his intention of adding depth to his rotation this winter. Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo were signed to help accomplish that goal, but the Brewers would like to add a top arm, especially now that Jimmy Nelson will miss significant time in 2018 following shoulder surgery. They've been attached to all four top free-agent starters at some point, but it remains to be seen whether the Brewers can land one of them.

Video: Nelson joins Hot Stove to discuss his rehab

Cardinals: St. Louis made its big splash last month with the trade for Marcell Ozuna, but replacing Lynn remains a priority for the Cardinals. They've been linked repeatedly to Arrieta, sparking the potential for a divisional bidding war. There hasn't been much talk about bringing back Lynn, making Arrieta and Cobb the two most likely candidates if the Cardinals are to sign a top starter in the coming weeks.

Video: Martinez, Wacha, Wainwright to anchor Cards' rotation

Nationals: Despite a strong rotation led by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, the Nationals have been linked to starters, including Arrieta and Lynn, for weeks. The biggest roadblock would be the Nationals' payroll, which currently sits above the luxury-tax threshold.

Video: Nationals' rotation deep in fifth-starter options

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.

Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn