As the slow early weeks of this offseason dragged on, we kept hearing the same refrain:
Just wait until Zack Greinke signs. Then all of the dominoes will begin to fall.
True story. We're seeing it now. On Monday, the Dodgers announced they'd signed the game's premier free agent to a monstrous six-year, $147 million deal. In the days since, other top names have begun to quickly come off the board.
On Thursday, the Angels landed Josh Hamilton with a five-year, $125 million offer. Shortly after that came to light, Bob Nightengale reported that Anibal Sanchez
– the consensus No. 2 free agent pitcher – had signed a five-year, $75 million contract with the Cubs, though he later backtracked. Sanchez is now playing Chicago against Detroit
, and his price will likely be driven up. It's pretty compelling stuff, really.
Overshadowed by those huge headlines was Ryan Dempster's signing with the Red Sox. The right-hander agreed to terms on a two-year, $26.5 million deal that looks downright reasonable in comparison to some of these other sums being thrown around.
According to Doogie Wolfson's source
, the Twins "kicked the tires" on Dempster but "never made a formal offer." Terry Ryan's done a whole lot of tire-kicking this winter, but appears content to walk away with nothing but scuffed shoes and empty hands, at least when it comes to the middle tier of starters.
We've heard the Twins connected to names like Joe Saunders, John Lannan, Francisco Liriano and Joe Blanton, but there's been no steam with higher-grade options such as Shaun Marcum and Edwin Jackson. Why not take a shot at Dempster? The Twins could have outbid the Red Sox and still been comfortably short of last year's budget.
Dempster has his warts, for sure. He'll turn 36 in May, and he got knocked around a bit after being traded to the AL this year. With the Rangers, he still averaged a strikeout per inning and pitched well after a couple early clunkers so I wouldn't worry too much about it. He has posted an ERA of 3.85 or below in four of the past five years and has averaged 200 innings over that span. He's a very solid starter, and his addition would send a message to fans that the Twins are truly committed to improving, now and in the future.
Some might say that Boston is a more attractive destination for Dempster, which brings us to the theory that free agents flat-out don't want to sign in Minnesota. But the Sox have been more of a mess than the Twins over the last two seasons and Fenway is a pretty treacherous pitching environment, which matters for a guy who might try to score one more contract after this one.
Apparently Ryan never made a serious bid, so it all becomes a moot point.
Even if the Twins were low on Dempster, why not get legitimately involved with the likes of a Marcum or Jackson? The money is ostensibly there, and even if contention in the next year or two is unlikely, they need to get better. They need to keep playing meaningful games past the middle of July to counteract the attendance drain that has been hitting them in the late months. They need a proven veteran to lead a young and inexperienced staff, and the current senior Kevin Correia is not a credible candidate.
Up to this point the Twins have essentially added no payroll for 2013. The Correia signing brings them back near even after they unloaded Denard Span's salary. With the big free agent names off the board, this is where Ryan should become active. These are the pitchers he should be in on.
He might have to pay more than he'd like in order to play that game. In fact, he definitely will. But failing to even participate in the bidding would be a disservice to fans, as well as plain-old bad team-building. The current starting stable is completely devoid of reliable assets – Ryan admitted as much when surprisingly acknowledging
that "there's no guarantee [Correia] will strengthen the group" – and that's just no way to proceed, even if the ultimate goal is to make a push further down the line.
There is not a team in the league that should be more desperate for quality pitching than the Twins. Perhaps they should start acting like it.