SAN DIEGO -- Nothing new of significance came of the Twins' conversations during the second full day of the Winter Meetings on Tuesday, but they did finally close the book on two of their earlier offseason acquisitions when they officially finalized the signings of right-hander Michael Pineda and catcher Alex Avila after the pair cleared their physicals.
Pineda will return to Minnesota on a two-year, $20 million deal and will likely slot into the bottom of the starting rotation when he completes his 60-game suspension, while Avila has a one-year, $4.25 million contract to serve as the backup catcher in 2020.
"We talked a lot about Michael at the end of last season about what transpired and his suspension, but also how much we valued the person, how much we valued his contribution to our team, and we still feel that way," Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. "No differently. I don't think we made any secret of the fact that he could come back, and we were hopeful that there could be a way for him to come back."
Though he started last season on a rough note, Pineda was one of the Twins' most consistent starters down the stretch as he pitched to a 4.01 ERA with 140 strikeouts and only 28 walks in 146 innings. General manager Thad Levine thought Pineda showed a clear improvement throughout the season with both his fastball and his slider as the big right-hander shook off the rust upon his return from a July 2017 Tommy John surgery.
"I'm not sure if you ever see it quite as pronounced as what we saw with Michael," Levine said. "You know, literally almost every month was better than the last for him and ... he returned not exactly to where he was when he was at his height, but you started seeing a crispness in the slider."
But the big right-hander will be unable to make his regular-season debut until mid-May, as he still has 39 games remaining on his suspension due to testing positive for hydrochlorothiazide, a banned diuretic. Pineda said in a statement that he mistakenly took a medication acquired over the counter by an acquaintance to manage his weight.
As they did last season, Falvey and Levine expressed sympathy for Pineda, who expressed a desire to return to Minnesota, and said they had no reason to believe that Pineda was being inaccurate or untruthful in his explanation of the events. Pineda's suspension had also been reduced from 80 games to 60 games upon appeal to an arbitrator.
"Adversity itself doesn't define them," Falvey said of players in Pineda's shoes. "We see how they respond to the adversity and I think his response to the adversity, I think it left us feeling that there was a level of sincerity to his contrition and accountability and that we could see a clear path forward in him continuing to be a part of this organization."
Avila will slot in as a left-handed bat complementary to that of Mitch Garver behind the plate, and Falvey and Levine indicated that the Twins expect to have a significant timeshare at catcher similar to that of Garver (73 starts) and Jason Castro (72 starts) last season. They do hope to find ways to get Garver additional at-bats without adding significantly to his workload at catcher, meaning that he could spend more time at first base or at designated hitter.
Avila hit only .207/.353/.421 with nine homers and eight doubles in 201 plate appearances last season, but he also ranked sixth defensively in the Majors in 2019 by receiving 52.5 percent of pitches for strikes around the edges of the strike zone, according to Statcast, and posted the highest caught-stealing rate of any catcher last season (minimum 50 games), with a 52.4 percent caught-stealing rate.
Levine also spoke very highly of the reviews that they received from previous career stops of Avila's ability to mentor younger catchers, which should be a significant factor due to Garver's continued efforts to improve his defense and the likely rise of top catching prospect Ryan Jeffers (ranked the club's No. 10 prospect per MLB Pipeline) through the Minor League system.
"I think that really resonated with us, as we've got Mitch, who is just learning the craft," Levine said. "We've got [Willians] Astudillo, and then we've got some prospect catchers on the horizon that we think would be nice to pair up with a veteran, and especially one who has the heart of a teacher. That meant something to us. The fact that he has familiarity with our division is only added value."