Twins sign rehabbing right-hander Michael Pineda to two-year deal
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Michael Pineda probably won't pitch again until 2019, but the Twins saw enough upside in the towering former New York Yankees right-hander to sign him to a two-year, $10 million deal Wednesday, Dec. 13.
Pineda's deal carries a maximum value of $3 million in potential bonuses, according to a person with direct knowledge. He will make $2 million while rehabbing for the bulk if not all of 2018, followed by $8 million in 2019.
The 6-foot-7, 260-pound Pineda made $7.4 million in his final season before reaching free agency. The Chicago Cubs signed lefty Drew Smyly, also coming off Tommy John surgery, to an identical two-year, $10 million contract on Tuesday that also contains up to $6 million via incentives.
"I had a nice conversation with (Pineda)," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "He's excited about the opportunity of coming to Minnesota. We all know when he's healthy what he can do. I thought it was outside the box a little bit."
Pineda, who turns 29 next month, underwent Tommy John surgery on July 18 after suffering a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. Timothy Kremchek, team physician for the Cincinnati Reds, performed the surgery.
A former 12-game winner with a 4.05 earned-run average in 117 career starts, the Dominican Republic native went 8-4 with a 4.39 ERA in 17 starts in 2017.
His eventful year started with a 10-game suspension in April after he was spotted with pine tar on his neck while pitching at Boston's Fenway Park. Pineda did not appeal the suspension for "possessing a foreign substance," typically used to improve a pitcher's grip.
"The pine tar thing, I don't think it's really a reflection of makeup or character or anything like that," Molitor said. "It was more a case of high-definition television, more than anything."
Molitor said Pineda has "some connection" to the Twins' Dominican players, a group that includes Ervin Santana, Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco and Adalberto Mejia. Pineda also pitched in New York with Twins right-hander Phil Hughes, himself coming off July surgery (for thoracic-outlet syndrome).
"Never having spoken to him until recently, I was just encouraged by his energy and desire to come back and help a team," Molitor said of Pineda. "Thankfully, he chose us."
Pineda averages 94 mph with his fastball and also uses a power changeup at 89 mph and a hard slider at 85 mph. His changeup usage spiked to a career-high 13.6 percent last season and his groundball rate jumped to 51 percent, also a career best.
The typical Tommy John rehab timeline is 12-14 months for a starting pitcher. That would make Pineda a potentially intriguing addition for the September stretch drive this season, but Molitor wasn't willing to push that possibility.
"We're going to try to get in sync with him as quickly as we can in terms of our idea of the Tommy John rehab," Molitor said. "You might allow yourself to think about that, but the biggest thing is to try to make sure he's ready for '19."
Add veteran sidewinder Steve Cishek to the list of relievers the Twins continue to pursue at the winter meetings.
According to a person with direct knowledge, the Twins remain engaged with the former closer for the Seattle Mariners and Miami Marlins. Cishek, 31, posted a 1.09 ERA and 9.5 nine-inning strikeout rate over the final two months last season after being traded to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Twins recently hired former Rays pitching analyst Josh Kalk as a senior analyst, giving them added insight into such pitchers as Cishek, fellow free-agent right-hander Alex Cobb and potential Rays trade targets Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer. Archer, who comes with four years of club control, would likely carry an exorbitant trade cost in terms of prospects.
Cishek, who also pitched for Team USA in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, has 121 career saves, one more than former Twins all-star closer Glen Perkins.
Molitor called ByungHo Park recently before the Korean slugger returned home after two mostly fruitless seasons in the Twins organization.
"I could sense a little bit of a disappointment that he wasn't able to come over here and be more impactful," Molitor said. "I just wanted to thank him for what he did when he was here. He's a good person. Between him and his family, he just decided it was going to be better off to go back."
Park reportedly left $6.5 million on the table, including a $500,000 buyout on a club option for 2020. He made $5.5 million for half a season in the majors, spending the rest of his stint at Triple-A Rochester.
Hand and hamstring injuries set him back greatly.
"Hopefully he gets back to having some fun, because I think the enjoyment he got from the game had kind of dissipated during his time here," Molitor said. "The first year there were moments. He had little stretches. I think he enjoyed spring training last year because he played really well. I'm sure it was hard for him not to get a chance to start the season with us after the spring that he had, but it worked out the way it did."
Including the posting fee to the Nexen Heroes, the Twins spent $18.35 million for Park's .191 batting average and 12 homers in the majors.
Despite massive damage from Hurricane Maria, the Twins' two-game series against the Cleveland Indians next April 17-18 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is "still on track to happen," Molitor said.
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