Twins continue to pursue top pitching talent

December 11th, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Here the Twins are at the Winter Meetings in San Diego, trying to jump into the deep end of the market for starting pitchers.

They do have the money to make a splash -- but it takes two to tango. The player and agent also need to feel that the team is a desirable landing spot. Do the Twins have the perception as a strong landing spot?

Minnesota's leadership certainly thinks so.

The city itself plays a factor, of course, and general manager Thad Levine indicated that the community in Minneapolis is generally considered an asset in that sense. More importantly, though, the Twins have two significant factors that also help them: Proof that they should be one of the favorites in a winnable division and the strong reputation of their coaching staff and clubhouse environment.

"I think one of the biggest hurdles we've summited so far is that we are perceived as a winning environment," Levine said. "I think that's significant."

Levine and Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey indicated that manager Rocco Baldelli and pitching coach Wes Johnson have become strong selling points in player-to-player interactions, and that has been a consistent message they have perceived from both agents and players in their conversations.

One of Baldelli's emphases last season was to create a comfortable, low-pressure clubhouse environment that empowered his coaches and players to be loose and at their best. The presence of veterans like and certainly helps. And though Johnson was a lesser-known commodity last year when he was hired out of the University of Arkansas, the performance of the Twins' pitching staff in 2019 is difficult to ignore as Minnesota continues its search for another impact starter.

According to FanGraphs, Johnson's pitching staff finished second in the American League with a combined 23.9 WAR last season. His work proved particularly significant in the bullpen, where he coaxed big steps forward out of , and to transform an inexperienced, shaky group at the start of the season into one of the team's major assets down the stretch.

"We were confident with Wes, that when we brought him in, we said, 'We think this guy can help individual pitchers individualize their plans and do it really well,'" Falvey said. "Now, I think it's a lot easier to point to real examples of that. It was a hope last year, and now we've got some proof to point to."

Significantly, super-agent Scott Boras agreed that Minnesota is a desirable destination for his clients as he confirmed on Tuesday that the Twins have approached his agency with a "strong interest in improving their pitching staff." Boras represents two of the top starting pitchers left on the market: and .

"[Baldelli] is really a dynamic person," Boras said. "I think the locker room there is looked upon by players as a really comfortable environment. I think they've got a great executive core, committed ownership, and when you play in the American League Central and you're a good team, it really improves your chances of being in the playoffs."

According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, the Twins still have an interest in Ryu, and Keuchel. It remains to be seen whether Minnesota's clubhouse and coaches will be able to swing Ryu, a West Coast players throughout his career, into relocating to the Midwest for the foreseeable future. (Boras offered a non-answer when asked about the strength of Ryu's geographic preferences.)

But if the Twins can clear that longtime hurdle, it would go a long way in helping them get over their playoff hump as well.

"They've really got to gear up and get the club to a level where they believe they can win Division Series and advance to the playoffs at that level," Boras said.