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Twins sign 40-year-old Rodney to fill closer’s role next season

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Fernando Rodney reacts after the final out against the Kansas City Royals Oct. 1 at Kauffman Stadium. Peter G. Aiken / USA TODAY Sports

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Twins have filled their vacant closer role with veteran right-hander Fernando Rodney, the No. 3 active saves leader with 300.

Rodney, who will pitch at age 41 next season, is coming off a 39-save season with the Arizona Diamondbacks. According to a person with direct knowledge, Rodney will earn a guarantee of $4.5 million on a one-year deal, pending a physical.

A package of reachable incentives could push the total value to $6 million for 2018 with a club option at those same terms for 2019. The Twins will be his ninth big-league team.

The three-time all-star (2012, 2014, 2016) still has a mid-90s fastball and a disappearing change-up that helps offset his career-long control issues. His 2017 earned-run average was 4.23 and his walk rate was alarmingly high, but he continued to strike out more than 10 batters per nine innings while holding opponents to a .582 combined on-base/slugging percentage.

Rodney, a demonstrative mound presence from the Dominican Republic, trails only Francisco Rodriguez and Huston Street in career saves among active players.

Rodney’s agreement comes hours after former Twins all-star closer Brandon Kintzler agreed to return to the Washington Nationals on a reported two-year, $10 million deal. There’s also a mutual option and a $16 million total guarantee, according to USA Today.

“It was almost unbelievable how good he was in spurts,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said this week of Rodney. “A credit to him. A guy that’s been around a long time. He’s 40 years old and has kept himself in really good shape. We could see that there was a tremendous work ethic that translated to success on the field. All that didn’t happen by accident.”

Rodney earned $2.75 million in base salary plus another $1.5 million via incentives on a one-year deal with the Diamondbacks.

“Smart, caring, with really good stuff,” Lovullo said. “It’s hard to believe he’s still throwing 95-96 miles an hour with the stuff that he has. Without him we would not have won that wild-card spot. I think a lot of Fernando Rodney.”

Known for his signature moves of cocking his cap sideways and celebrating saves with an archer’s pantomime to the heavens, Rodney has 66 career blown saves and a career save conversation rate of just 82 percent. Thirty-one percent of his career inherited runners have scored, a high rate for someone entrusted with the ninth inning.

Rodney has said he wears his cap that way in tribute to his late father Ulise, a fisherman who died six days before Rodney made his big-league debut in 2002 with the Detroit Tigers.

Last season in Arizona, however, Rodney nailed down 87 percent of his chances while blowing just six opportunities. Even amid his sporadic struggles, Lovullo stuck with him.

“I think the experience and the walk that he’s taken has allowed him to know that there’s situations that are never too big or never too small,” Lovullo said. “He keeps it right down the middle. He buckled a couple times, and we stuck with him, and that was because of his track record. It was a proven guy, and he didn’t let us down.”

As he joins a Twins team that just got good work out of 44-year-old countryman Bartolo Colon, it’s fair to wonder how long Rodney can keep doing this.

“Based on what I saw at the end of the year, it seems like he might be able to pitch until he’s 50, to be honest with you,” Lovullo said. “He works extremely hard during his pregame, as hard as any pitcher we had in our system. Do I think there’s stuff left? Absolutely. How much, I don’t know.”

As for Kintzler, a first-time all-star last season at 33 before the Twins traded him to the Nationals on July 31, there was mutual interest in a reunion but no formal offer from the Twins, according to a person with direct knowledge.

“Brandon Kintzler performed exceptionally well for the franchise,” Twins general manager Thad Levine said. “(Former Twins special assistant) Wayne Krivsky deserves a ton of credit for scouting him. Obviously Brandon deserves the lion’s share of the credit for doing what he did to put himself in a position to get back on a major-league roster.

“I think just for where we were, we had a lot of conversations with both he and his agent this offseason. The opportunity he had (with the Nationals) was one he wanted to pursue. From a timing standpoint we may not have been ready to step up at this juncture. I just want to be crystal clear: What he did for this franchise was terrific. The perfect guy at the perfect time, and he deserves all the credit for that, and we wish him the best of luck.”