MINNEAPOLIS -- Part of the Twins' solution to their rotation puzzle fell into place on Thursday night, when right-hander Michael Pineda agreed to a two-year, $20 million deal to return to Minnesota, a source told MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez. The agreement is still pending the completion of a physical.
The club has not confirmed the deal, which was first reported by Fox 9 television in Minneapolis.
Pineda won't be able to make an immediate impact for the Twins, as the 30-year-old still needs to serve 39 games of the 60-game suspension that prematurely ended his 2019 season due to a violation of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. But upon his projected return in mid-May, his consistency should serve the Twins well as a solid mid-rotation option behind José Berríos, Jake Odorizzi and any other starters the Twins acquire this offseason.
The move does take some pressure off the Twins as the pitching market continues to move. Even after Odorizzi accepted the qualifying offer to return on a one-year deal, Minnesota likely still needed to fill two vacancies in its starting rotation to anchor a playoff contender in 2020. The Twins, who have reportedly been connected to free agent Madison Bumgarner, can still focus on adding another starting pitcher via free agency or trade.
Pineda wasn't considered to be in the top tier of the free-agent market, but he often looked the part of a top starter for the Twins in 2019, when he returned from Tommy John surgery to post a 4.01 ERA (114 ERA+) in 26 starts, including a 3.46 ERA from May to the end of his season in September. He was arguably the Twins' most consistent pitcher in that stretch, as he allowed no more than three earned runs in 16 of his final 18 starts.
At $10 million per season, the Twins are essentially getting Pineda back at the same value of his previous deal, when Minnesota initially signed the big right-hander to a two-year, $10 million contract with the expectation of only one actual season of production upon his return from surgery. Pineda is nearly two years younger than Kyle Gibson, a starter in a similar tier of the free-agent market who also averaged $10 million per season on a three-year deal with the Rangers earlier this offseason.
Though Pineda had lost a little velocity on his fastball when he returned from surgery, his strong command of his fastball and slider led to an exceptional ratio of 140 strikeouts to only 28 walks in 146 innings. Pineda's 4.7 percent walk rate was second-lowest to only Zack Greinke among American League starters who pitched at least 100 innings in 2019.
All that was before Pineda tested positive for the diuretic hydrochlorothiazide in September, which incurred a suspension that was reduced from 80 games to 60 by an arbitrator. In a statement released through the MLB Players Association at the time, Pineda said that he mistakenly took a medication for weight loss that was given to him by a close acquaintance.
The good news for the Twins is that there's no shortage of internal options with Major League experience who could fill a rotation spot for the first month and a half of the season while Pineda serves out the remainder of his suspension. Rookies Devin Smeltzer, Randy Dobnak and Lewis Thorpe could fill in capably, and top pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol could provide further depth if the Twins choose to stretch him back out to a starting role.