News broke late Thursday evening that the Minnesota Twins and Michael Pineda had agreed to a two-year deal worth $20 million. Fox 9 Sports reporter Pierre Noujaim was the first to say the deal was happening, and followed up shortly with the terms:
The deal was confirmed by Dan Hayes of The Athletic though the team has not yet made any announcement.
Year one of the deal will be prorated off the 39 games he’s still serving on a 60-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance, and according to Hayes that means it’ll be roughly a two-year deal worth $17.6 million — $200k less than the qualifying offer tender accepted by Jake Odorizzi but not extended to Pineda.
Pineda is eligible to return Sunday, May 11 when the Twins host the Kansas City Royals — the last of a six-game homestand. And since it was a banned substance and not a performance-enhancing drug, the suspension was reduced and he is eligible to play in the 2020 postseason should the Twins make it.
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A clearly contrite, disappointed Pineda requested to meet with the media on Sept. 10 — two days after the suspension was handed down — to not only express remorse, but a desire to return to the Twins, and the deal agreed upon on Thursday makes that happen, pending a physical.
Pineda’s been the victim of some poor timing when it’s come to the two times he’s hit free agency. The first time, he was coming off Tommy John surgery and wasn’t available to pitch for more than a year. This time, it comes on the heels of the aforementioned suspension. Both of these have cost Pineda significant money, but it’s clear that he and the Twins have seen common ground when it comes to his path to redemption — however short or long that may be.
Where it really hurts Pineda is that he was pitching phenomenally prior to the suspension. After posting a 6.21 ERA in April, the 6-foot-7 Pineda was terrific over the final four-plus months of the season: 3.46 ERA, 118-22 K/BB ratio in 117.0 innings with a slash-line against of .236/.275/.395.
In fact, Pineda’s last three starts before the suspension might have been his best three in a row all season: 2.12 ERA, 27-4 K/BB and .598 OPS against in just 17 innings.
The Twins are well-equipped to handle the rotation opening Pineda will leave for the first six weeks of the 2020 season internally with some combination of Brusdar Graterol, Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer, but it’s clear the team’s work also isn’t over.
The Pineda signing puts the Twins at a little under $100 million committed for the 2020 season, and leaves the rotation as follows:
- Jose Berrios
The team may, in fact, keep one of those spots open for one of the trio, but at this point, it seems more likely to let the winner of that three-headed battle in Fort Myers open the season as the team’s No. 5 starter, with two more additions still to come.
The reality is that that trio is a really good insurance policy for an existing 1-5, but relying on them to be anything more than depth is a tricky proposition for a team that just won 101 games and will have to fight off the advances of the quickly-improving Chicago White Sox.
As noted last month, the Twins only needed 16 starts from outside their top-five starters last year, and that included almost a month of covering Pineda starts when he missed nearly all of September. In 2018 that number was 31, and in 2017 it was 39. Any sort of shift in the team’s injury luck would mean any of those three guys could be called upon to throw heavy innings totals, something that isn’t an option if they’re already part of the rotation.
And for what it’s worth, there’s really no reason payroll-wise for the Twins to stop anytime soon. Even if the Twins don’t land Madison Bumgarner at the rumored price tag of $20-22 million for perhaps as many as five years, there’s still a path to a wildly successful offseason that doesn’t include landing one of the top-five starters — one of whom (Zack Wheeler) has already signed.
The front office has valued fluidity and payroll flexibility considerably in their time running the Twins, and an easy path can still be paved with more impact free agents coming in.
Consider (in terms of AAV):
- Sign Dallas Keuchel ($13-15m)
- Sign Rick Porcello or Julio Teheran ($10-12m)
- Sign Josh Donaldson ($25m)
That’s still only a payroll in the $145-150 million range, and while it may not include showstoppers like Wheeler, Bumgarner, Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg or Hyun-Jin Ryu, it’d be again a team stacked with the depth necessary to take on all comers and weather any storms on the way to a possible second division crown in a row.
And that payroll would barely be the highest it has ever been. Cot’s Contracts has the Twins ending the 2018 season at a touch under $144 million, and there’s not much of a reason to stop there in adding a backup catcher (Jason Castro/Martin Maldonado/Robinson Chirinos) and a bullpen arm (Sergio Romo) or two (Blake Treinen).
It was understanding to see some Twins fans disappointed the team didn’t land Wheeler, but don’t think for a second the front office is playing checkers here. They’re playing chess, and there’s a lot of offseason left. Don’t lose hope.