Pablo López nearing 4-year extension with Twins (sources)

April 18th, 2023

NEW YORK — The Twins paid a steep trade price to bring in to pitch at the front end of their starting rotation during the offseason -- but they’ve now made it a long-term investment.

López and the Twins are closing in on a four-year, $73.5 million contract extension that will cover the 2024-27 seasons, sources told on Monday. López was originally slated to become a free agent following the ‘24 season, meaning this new deal will buy out three years of free agency.

The club has not confirmed the deal.

When made official, the deal will be the largest financial commitment to a pitcher in team history, surpassing the four-year, $55 million deal the Twins gave Ervin Santana ahead of the 2015 season.

The newfound certainty around López’s future is particularly meaningful now because three of the Twins’ rotation veterans — Sonny Gray, Kenta Maeda and Tyler Mahle -- are in the final year of their contracts. Now, the Twins are poised to build their rotation around their last two Opening Day starters -- López and Joe Ryan -- for years to come.

"He's young. He's in his prime. He's just getting better," Carlos Correa said. "I think it was a great addition. The extra four years are going to be great. Now, it's time for us to keep going out there and keep playing good baseball, because obviously, the front office is putting all the effort in to put the right product out on the field."

The future of the rotation looks much more secure behind those two, with the team hopeful that Bailey Ober, Louie Varland and Simeon Woods Richardson can continue to establish themselves. That gives them options, even as they aren’t sure what to expect from Chris Paddack, who hopes to make a return from a second Tommy John surgery late this season after signing a three-year extension of his own during the offseason.

The next wave of young pitchers to arrive in the next two or so seasons also looks bright, headlined by up-and-comers like 2022 second-rounder Connor Prielipp, Marco Raya and David Festa.

"The biggest thing that [the front office] talked about is winning, so for me, whatever they need to do up there, that’s what they’re doing," Byron Buxton said. "[What] we’ve got to do down here is focus on winning."

Just as significantly, the Twins now have both top pitching and hitting talent to anchor their roster. They already had Correa and Buxton as the core of their position player crew through at least the 2028 season; now, they’re guaranteed to control both López and Ryan through ‘27.

López has had a history of injury concerns, and it was significant to the 27-year-old that he finally stayed healthy for a full 32 starts last season after finding a better routine to stay healthy. He’ll be only 31 at the end of this extension.

And significantly, this isn’t the same old López who has pitched to a career 3.83 ERA across 98 starts in six seasons with Miami and Minnesota; there are underlying reasons to believe he’s only scratching the surface of his frontline potential.

"I think he's a special pitcher," catcher Christian Vázquez said. "The arsenal he has, all the pitches work for everybody. The good thing is he can go deep into games with a lot of swing-and-miss and a lot of early outs. That's an ace. That's why they signed him. It's a lot of money. He's one of the best pitchers right now."

As López has pitched to a 1.73 ERA in his first four Twins starts with an MLB-leading 33 strikeouts and six walks in 26 innings, his average fastball velocity of 95.4 mph has been up nearly 2 mph from last season and up 1.5 mph from his previous career high. He has also added a new sweeping slider for the first time, immediately using it for big results, with a 50% whiff rate as his second-most-used pitch.

And that’s not even to mention the best element of his arsenal, a true wipeout changeup that gives him myriad looks with which he can adjust and attack hitters on any given day.

Thanks in part to López’s early dominance, Minnesota starters entered Monday ranked second in MLB in ERA (2.60), first in strikeout rate (29.9%), second in walk rate (6.5%) and first in WHIP (0.96) -- and that’s having already faced both the Astros and Yankees.

Though the Twins had to trade away reigning American League batting champion Luis Arraez to bring López into the organization, he has given them immediate results with the kind of playoff-caliber, frontline pitching (albeit in a small sample size) that this organization has long sought to end its postseason win drought. Monday’s news showed they hope to take full advantage of the opportunity.

"He’s made one of those very, very deep, memorable impressions, which is hard to do in a very brief period of time," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "He brings an incredible amount to the table. He definitely wows you in the way he handles everything that he does, and we also think he’s one of the best starting pitchers in the game."