Questions answered as Twins workouts begin
MINNEAPOLIS — Questions, questions, questions. Everybody’s got questions.
Here’s a few — along with some of the usual optimistic, best-case answers — as the Twins open their fourth spring training under manager Paul Molitor.
Pitchers and catchers stage their first official workout Wednesday morning, Feb. 14, in Fort Myers, Fla. Opening Day in Baltimore, March 29 this year, is right around the corner:
1. Hey, where’s the ace?
Ervin Santana? You probably won’t see the 35-year-old right-hander on the mound for the Twins until late April or early May after he underwent Feb. 6 surgery on the middle finger of his pitching hand.
Still smarting from a two-inning drubbing in the wild-card loss at Yankee Stadium last fall, Santana needs to reach 200 innings for a second straight season — plus pass a year-end physical — in order to trigger a $14 million option for 2019.
Even if he fails to get there, the Twins still could decide to bring him back for a fifth season. He is coming off his first all-star appearance in nine years and has been a positive influence in the clubhouse.
2. Oh, sorry, you meant Yu Darvish?
Uh, he’s in Arizona with the Chicago Cubs, who finally agreed to sign him over the weekend for six years and $126 million, with a chance to earn another $25 million or so through performance bonuses.
The Twins, as promised, chased the Japanese pitching star for three solid months before reportedly refusing to go beyond five years at around $20 million per season. Signing Darvish would have been a huge boost to the Twins’ rotation but other options remain.
3. OK, so who will the Twins sign to help this modest rotation?
Or acquire. Don’t forget the trade avenue, although the oft-rumored Tampa Bay Rays are far more likely to part with right-hander Jake Odorizzi, under control through 2019 via salary arbitration, than staff ace Chris Archer, whose remaining obligation of $34 million over the next four years makes him one of the game’s most valuable arms.
Top remaining free agents include Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and ex-Rays right-hander Alex Cobb. Then there’s the next tier that includes former Twins lefty (for one start) Jaime Garcia, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Hellickson, John Lackey and old friend Ricky Nolasco (sorry).
Anyone who is brought in would compete with the likes of holdovers Adalberto Mejia, Phil Hughes, Tyler Duffey, Aaron Slegers, Dietrich Enns and Trevor May for rotation spots behind potential Opening Day starter Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson.
Ex-Yankee Michael Pineda, working back from Tommy John surgery last July, hopes to be ready to help by September.
4. Will Miguel Sano be ready for Opening Day?
He should be, barring a setback as the slugging third baseman works back from his Nov. 13 surgery to install a titanium rod in his left shin. Then again, the Twins will be careful not to rush him back into the field too quickly, so more time at designated hitter would make sense, at least early in the season.
There’s also the specter of Major League Baseball’s investigation into freelance photographer Betsy Bissen’s Twitter allegation of a 2015 assault against Sano. The league has made it clear there is no timeline for completing the investigation, which began immediately after the Dec. 28 public allegation and remains ongoing.
A fine or suspension remains possible for Sano under the sport’s joint policy with the players’ union on domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse, but the Twins are well-covered with Eduardo Escobar, coming off a career-high 21 home runs in 2017, able to handle third base in Sano’s absence.