Pineda, Tigers agree to 1-year deal

March 19th, 2022

LAKELAND, Fla. -- On the same day the Tigers debuted Eduardo Rodriguez at the top of their rotation, they closed in on adding one more veteran to round it out. Right-hander and the Tigers spent Friday night agreeing to terms on a one-year contract. The deal became official Saturday morning once Pineda passed his physical exam.

The contract includes a $5.5 million base salary with another $2.5 million in potential incentives, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman.

Pineda is the fourth pitcher the Tigers have added this week, and the second on a big league deal. Detroit signed lefty reliever Andrew Chafin to a two-year, $13 million deal on Thursday, after adding starters Chase Anderson and Wily Peralta on Minor League contracts with non-roster invites to Major League camp.

While Anderson and Peralta are depth additions, Pineda is expected to immediately step into the rotation. The 33-year-old is a veteran of eight Major League seasons, the last three of them with the AL Central rival Twins.

Pineda posted a 9-8 record and a 3.62 ERA last year in 21 starts and a relief appearance. He was better after the All-Star break, posting a 6-3 record and a 3.00 ERA, and went 5-0 with a 1.85 ERA over the season’s final month. The last of those wins came against the Tigers, whom he held to a run on eight hits over 5 2/3 innings with no walks and five strikeouts. His strikeout rate dropped as the season went on, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio improved.

“He's an incredible starter who has been doing it in a lot of different ways,” manager A.J. Hinch said Saturday. “He broke in his career being a guy with high-end velocity and a big physical presence, and now he has evolved into being a little bit more of a pitch-maker, throws more offspeed pitches. His velocity’s down a little bit and he still finds ways to get outs. His performance over the last couple of years has shown that there’s a pitcher in there and not just a stuff guy.”

For the season, Pineda finished well despite a jump in his hard-hit rate, from 32.1 percent of balls in play in 2020 to 46.7 percent last year, well above his career rate of 37.9 percent. Likewise, his average exit velocity jumped from 86 mph in 2020 to 91.2 mph last year. Despite all that, his home run rate remained low around his career averages, allowing 17 homers over 109 1/3 innings.

“The last part of the season, he really pitched well,” executive vice president and general manager Al Avila said. “He has always pitched well against us.”

Pineda has a 5-2 record and a 3.62 ERA in 11 career starts against the Tigers, including 4-0 with a 3.46 ERA in seven starts since 2019.

Pineda’s agreement ends what had been a thorough search for one more starter. Avila said Thursday the Tigers had made a push for fellow free agent Zack Greinke, who eventually returned to his roots with the Royals on a one-year, $13 million deal. Money wasn’t the issue, Avila said, but the Tigers couldn’t counter Greinke’s desire to return to his original organization and train close to home.

The Tigers also explored the trade route, and were linked with having interest on Oakland starters Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas. However, Avila emphasized that they didn’t want to mortgage their farm system to fill a rotation spot.

“We're not really motivated to trade the farm, per se, at this point,” Avila said Thursday. “I think we're still a team that's growing. It's taken a lot of work and time to build up the farm system. So we're going to be very careful. Now, if there's a trade to be made that makes a lot of sense for us, we're not afraid to trade a prospect or two. But we're going to be careful.”

In a rapidly shrinking pitching market, Pineda was a relatively low-risk addition, allowing the former All-Star to try to regain his value while the Tigers gain experience for a rotation that includes talented youngsters Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning. All three were rookies last season, and they boast 91 career Major League starts combined.

“I think veteran presence always matters,” Hinch said. “I think the better they play, the better the presence.”

Pineda likely will push lefty swingman Tyler Alexander back into the bullpen, while allowing prospects Joey Wentz and Alex Faedo to gain more work in the Minor Leagues before becoming options for in-season callups. Alexander, who is scheduled to start Tuesday's Grapefruit League matchup against the Phillies, said Saturday that Hinch was up-front with him about the likelihood of adding another starter.

“He's a guy that can help us win,” Hinch said of Alexander. “I mean, that's one of the things he can do, being so versatile, is be successful at a couple different roles. So wherever we think that's best over the course of 162 games, we're going to put him. He’s probably going to make a number of starts regardless, whether he's in the rotation now.”

Alexander could still end up beginning the season in the rotation if Pineda needs more time to get ready. Avila said that Pineda should be ready at season’s start, but shouldn’t miss much time if he isn’t.