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The Twins and Brewers have a chance to dominate the pitching market

The hot stove is lukewarm now, but it’s some small market teams that can change that.

Minnesota Twins v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Right now, in a hotel suite, Scott Boras is attempting to drum up interest in his clients, including Jake Arrieta. He is speaking that Scott Boras language (“Jake is the spin wraith, cut from a different sheet of stardust than the rest of us.”) to get people interested in his clients, and he’ll go straight to the owners if he needs to.

The difference this time is that he’ll skip the Dodgers’ suite. He knows better than to hit the Giants up. The Cardinals are so stocked they dealt Mike Leake last year, even though they were still contending. The Red Sox might politely listen, but Boras knows he would be wasting everyone’s time. Now that the Yankees have moved Chase Headley’s salary, they might be interested, and the Nationals are still pitching greedy, but the Cubs might be focused on other additions now. There shouldn’t be a whole bunch of fat-walleted teams chasing down the top starting pitchers on the market.

And yet. There will be teams with credit cards, and they’ll be looking to make 36 low monthly payments. These aren’t the fat-walleted teams, necessarily. These are the teams humming “Once in a Lifetime” as they meet with the Borases and CAAs. They’re in on everybody, and they’re trying to keep it quiet.

Specifically, I’m talking about two teams with a lot in common: the Twins and the Brewers.

Both are Midwestern teams that play in cities with fewer than 700,000 people. Both are much better baseball towns than they have to be. Both teams were doomed to languish in noncompetitive hell for years, but both teams had surprisingly successful seasons. Both teams have lineups filled with thumpers, but both teams have struggled to develop or find starting pitching.

Both teams are remarkably free from long-term payroll concerns, and both teams would like to read the glossy brochure about Yu Darvish. They’re just curious. For now.

Start with the Twins, who actually made the postseason last year. They have a year left of Brian Dozier, but they have several of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. An underrated strength of theirs is developing hitters with high floors, like Max Kepler, Robbie Grossman, Eduardo Escobar, and Kennys Vargas, while also maintaining high ceilings for a few of them.

Their problem is that they have just one Jose Berrios, and the CBA explicitly forbids the Twins from extracting his DNA. Ervin Santana had an excellent all-star season last year, but he’ll be 35, and his FIP suggests trouble could be lurking. Beyond those two are pennies tossed into a wishing well, with a rotation that was sketchy enough to add Bartolo Colon last year and get better.

They’ll have a payroll of close to $100 million this year, but things improve dramatically after that. Joe Mauer’s contract is up next year, and they hold a team option on Santana, so they’re protected if he regresses. They can afford to keep Dozier if they so desire, and that’s if they add someone like Yu Darvish. Or Lance Lynn. Or both Darvish and Lynn, with maybe Alex Cobb thrown in. Sure, it’s unlikely, but they have exactly zero dollars committed to their 2020 payroll. They have hitters. They can buy pitchers.

The Brewers aren’t quite in a spot to be that financially liberated, but they’re doing just fine. They’ve also cobbled together a surprisingly hefty lineup with the help of prospects who blossomed (Domingo Santana), trades that panned out (Travis Shaw), and a low-cost gamble that will keep paying off (Eric Thames). They’re in a place where they can still fold in their best prospects, like Lewis Brinson and Orlando Arcia, while working around their growing pains.

All they need now is pitching, and they’re so danged close. Zach Davies is solid, and Chase Anderson might be more than that. They were so close to having a low-cost, productive troika for the next few years, but Jimmy Nelson’s shoulder is done busted, and you can’t just swap tendons out of those things. They have solid starting prospects in the upper minors if they need depth, but they can really, really use another reliable pitcher in the rotation.

Their committed payroll isn’t quite as footloose and fancy free as the Twins’, but it’s close. Only Ryan Braun, Thames, and Anderson have guaranteed salaries next year, and they don’t have to worry about losing any of their core pieces to free agency until Nelson and maybe Jonathan Villar until 2021. They can spend on a starting pitcher. They can spend on two or three.

The best news for both the Twins and Brewers is that it’s a fine market to be shopping for starting pitchers of all varieties. Want high risk and high reward to slap at the top of your rotation? There’s Darvish and Arrieta, just waiting for you. Want to shop at Macy’s, not Nordstrom, and feel better about the balance on your credit card? There’s Lynn and Cobb, a tier down, but still with plenty to offer. Want boring short-term reliability? There’s CC Sabathia, Jason Vargas, and Miguel Gonzalez. Want stressful short-term with upside? There’s Andrew Cashner, Chris Tillman, and Jhoulys Chacin.

Options. Both teams have options. So do the Yankees, Nationals, and Cubs, so it won’t be as simple as clicking the “Buy now with 1-Click” button. And there’s a chance that while they’re listening to Boras compare Arrieta to a neon mantis the size of Rhode Island, some of those traditionally rich teams will sneak in behind them and snatch some of the better pitchers away.

But we’re in an offseason where the Brewers and Twins are hungry for the same thing. Both of them have the same need. Both of them have the same timeline. Both of them have the same flexibility. They’re coming for the pitchers, and they’ll probably leave with a couple of the better ones out there.