The surprise big winners from MLB's ugly offseason

·MLB columnist

FORT MYERS, Fla. – William the security guard was at his post before dawn Sunday, at a gate through which Minnesota Twins players and staff pass. A disfigured creature stood just to Williams’ left, about knee high. It gazed at William. It padded in circles, pecked at the sidewalk, then returned its gaze to William.

“I think,” William said, “it’s a cross between a duck and a turkey. That’s what I’m going with.”

A second guard approached.

“That,” he stated with certainty, “is the most misunderstood duck,” as though he could have submitted a fairly sizeable list of underappreciated ducks. “People mistreat them because they think they’re ugly.”

The man was right. They are ugly. He sighed.

“Just a friendly duck,” he said.

Sensing this, the creature left William and waddled for a while behind the second guard.

“A Muscovy duck,” the man said. “Just saw a show on ’em.”

Also, a Barbary duck, as it is more likely to be described on your local eatery’s menu.

This Muscovy duck has been hanging out at Minnesota Twins camp. (Tim Brown/Yahoo Sports)
This Muscovy duck has been hanging out at Minnesota Twins camp. (Tim Brown/Yahoo Sports)

There are other things to write about in this camp, such as the Twins being total vultures, inside a month having freed Jake Odorizzi from the rebuilding Tampa Bay Rays, and rescued Logan Morrison and Lance Lynn from their never-ending offseasons, and before that signing Addison Reed, Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke (along with Michael Pineda, who will spend this season recovering from Tommy John surgery.) The point about the duck is one man’s duck-turkey monster is another’s little friend (or dinner), in the same way one man’s free agency is another’s nightmare, in the same way one franchise’s profit drag is another’s road to relevance.

All depends on how you look at it, and whether you’re selling short-term hope or long-term promises/alibis, and then whether you’re in the right place at the right time when the prices fall on both. This is where a confounding offseason meets the opportunistic Twins. Where a bright, patient front office that a little more than a year ago set out to turn 103 losses into 85 wins and a wild-card experience allows the market to come to it, and walks away with a DH and a No. 3 starter for something short of $20 million.

“We recognized relatively early in this offseason that there are different rules to this card game and we kept getting dealt different cards,” general manager Thad Levine said. “We had to figure out how to keep our head above water in this new game. So we were constantly adjusting. It would be a little disingenuous for me to say that we had any forecast associated with seeing that this was on the horizon and that we plotted these moves. We really were more reacting to how the market was unfolding and trying to make the most of our opportunities.”

By Monday or Tuesday, and assuming reasonable health, they’ll introduce Lynn. Morrison arrived in camp and, sort of joking but probably not, announced the Twins had gotten him so cheap they could certainly afford to sign Lynn, with whom he’d worked out in the offseason. That was about a week-and-a-half ago.

The Minnesota Twins benefited from a wonky offseason for free agents. (AP)
The Minnesota Twins benefited from a wonky offseason for free agents. (AP)

The moves were applauded in a clubhouse tasked with catching the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central, even a clubhouse – like the other 29 clubhouses – still tweaked over a winter that played poorly for their free-agent friends. Too many other teams seem content to play for tomorrow, or the next day. So, yeah, the small-market Twins got better, which is good for the game, and the free-agent market had to all but collapse in order to make it happen, which many would view as not good for the game.

“You recognize there’s a problem with the way free agency is being handled now,” starter Phil Hughes said Sunday morning. “But, we’re benefitting from a couple of these guys who shouldn’t have fallen into our laps. So, it is a little bit conflicting. Obviously you’re seeing a lot of one-year deals for these guys so they can get back into free agency next year and see if this issue rectifies itself. I’m not so confident that that’s all of a sudden just going to go away next offseason unless something changes. That part of it remains to be seen.

“Hey, we’ll take it. I don’t think anybody really foresaw Lance Lynn doing the deal he just did.”

So there are places where the baseball will be purposefully bad, and there are players out there – Greg Holland, Alex Cobb for two – who might actually take the sting out of bad. Except there’s the purposefully part, the self-inflicted part, like the made-up stomach ache before gym class. Now it’s a strategy, a plan, a process, presented like everybody else is too dumb or short-sighted to grasp the intricacies or the organizational genius. The townsfolk have laid down their pitchforks in order to get both hands around their Baseball Americas. And the Twins turned the weird, self-serving, slight-of-hand winter into what looks like another year of contending, like the caterers who leave with pockets full of silverware.

“Well,” first baseman Joe Mauer said, “it’s concerning what’s going on throughout the league. But, we were able to add some good talent.

“We’re going to have to sit down and evaluate that as players. The whole game. It’s definitely something different for both sides. We’re still kind of in it and still don’t know what to think of it as a whole. The situation here and my focus is getting ready for the season. I’m really excited to play baseball.”

Besides, Phil Hughes said, “You certainly would rather be the team getting these guys for sweetheart deals than the team not getting them.”

All depends on your perspective. Sometimes it’ll seem a situation couldn’t get any uglier. Sometimes it’s just a damned friendly duck.

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