Twins determined in pursuit of Darvish

Club stays patient as free-agent pitching market develops

MINNEAPOLIS — As the Rule 5 Draft came to a close on Thursday, Twins general manager Thad Levine stood at the back of the room, waiting to meet with local reporters to talk about the Winter Meetings that were just wrapping up.

But before Levine could do his media session, he was swarmed by a group of Japanese reporters and photographers who essentially wanted to know one thing: How real is Minnesota’s interest in Yu Darvish?

Levine, who was assistant general manager in Texas when Darvish signed with the Rangers in 2012, explained that the club remains very interested in Darvish, considered the top starting pitcher available in free agency. Levine said Darvish was a priority earlier this offseason, and that hasn’t changed.

Twins manager Paul Molitor also confirmed their heavy interest in Darvish after sitting in on meetings with the front office during the Winter Meetings.

“We want to make sure that the player and his team understand that we want to be part of discussions and we have targeted him as somebody we have tremendous interest in,” Molitor said. “Where that’s going to go, where the market’s going to go, what we’re able to do, how far other teams are willing to go, you know, things you can’t control.”

As Molitor noted, the starting pitching market has been slow-moving, especially among the top starters available such as Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb. Darvish is the lone pitcher among that group not tied to Draft-pick compensation as the others received qualifying offers.

Levine said the Twins will continue to be patient yet aggressive in their pursuit of a front-line starting pitcher to join Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios. The Twins have yet to make an offer to Darvish, but he’s not expected to make a decision anytime soon.

“The top end of the market tends to be more patient, because it’s not like interest is going to evaporate,” Levine said. “I think there are two tiers, with Darvish and Arrieta linked and then Lynn and Cobb linked. Time will tell how much they impact one another.”

The largest free-agent contract in Twins history remains Santana’s four-year, $55 million deal signed before the ’15 season. But they did sign Joe Mauer to an eight-year, $184 million extension, which is set to expire after the upcoming season.

Darvish is looking for a nine-figure contract, which would easily eclipse Santana’s deal with Minnesota. But the Twins have financial flexibility, as only Jason Castro, Phil Hughes and the newly signed Michael Pinedaare under contract beyond next season.

The Twins have filled holes this offseason without breaking the bank, as Pineda signed a two-year deal worth $10 million that pays him $2 million in ’18 while he recovers from Tommy John surgery. And they signed closer Fernando Rodney to a one-year, $4.5 million contract with a club option.

Signing a pitcher of Darvish’s caliber to a large contract would be a surprise, given Minnesota’s history in free agency, but the front office led by Derek Falvey and Levine is serious about Darvish and plans to make a strong push for him over the coming weeks.

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