General Manager Thad Levine reaffirmed Sunday that the Twins plan to be a major player in the baseball free-agent market, and that includes pursuing top starters and relievers.
Levine confirmed the Twins are interested in Shohei Ohtani, the “Japanese Babe Ruth,” a hitting and pitching star who intends to play in MLB next season.
During a Sirius XM Radio interview Sunday, Levine said Ohtani is “a unique free agent ... we’re working diligently and that’s a top priority for us.”
“He hasn’t narrowed this down to specific markets,” Levine said. “He’s looking for a competitive environment in which he thinks he can thrive and develop in the major league level.”
Ohtani, 23, could have been in line for a huge contract had he waited two more years to come to North America. The collective bargaining agreement will limit him to a minor league contract, and that gives every MLB team a shot at him if they are willing to post $20 million to the Nippon Ham Fighters, his team in Japan’s Pacific League.
The Twins have the third most money ($3.25 million) in the international bonus pool, but it seems on the surface they would be a long shot because Ohtani and his representatives are likely interested in a market such as New York or Los Angeles with greater marketing opportunities.
There’s still a question about whether Ohtani could play both pitcher and a position (he likely would be a designated hitter or play right field), a debate that will continue until he’s in spring training with a team.
“He wants to start competing against major league hitters right now,” Levine told Sirius, hinting pitching might be Ohtani’s future.
Levine also said the Twins have been talking with agents for top available starters Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn.
Darvish, 31, seems most targeted by the Twins. He came to the Texas Rangers from Japan five years ago, when Levine was the Rangers’ assistant GM.
Darvish is expected to get a multiyear deal in the $150 million range.
A memo from Nez Balelo, co-head of CAA Baseball, was distributed to all 30 teams by the commissioner’s office late Friday along with materials for the coming Friday’s vote on a new posting agreement between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball. If the deal is approved, Ohtani is expected to be put up for bid later that day or the following day.
Any big league team meeting the $20 million posting fee would have 21 days to negotiate a deal. The money is paid only if a contract is agreed to.
In five seasons in Japan, Ohtani has a 42-15 record with a 2.52 ERA and 624 strikeouts in 543 innings, and a .286 batting average with 48 homers and 166 RBI.