Twins finalize extension with Dobnak

Unheralded amateur, ex-Uber driver is a key swingman for 2-time defending AL Central champs

March 29th, 2021

Randy Dobnak's improbable big league journey began at an NCAA Division II baseball program, took him through an obscure independent league in the exurbs of Detroit, famously involved a 4.99-star rating as an Uber driver and a $500 signing bonus on his first contract with the Twins, and culminated with a meteoric rise from Class A Advanced to a big league playoff start in 2019.

Now, the next step in Dobnak's story is a seven-figure contract.

Dobnak and the Twins have completed a five-year extension worth a guaranteed $9.25 million with club options for the 2026, '27 and '28 seasons, the club announced on Monday. The guarantee includes a $1 million buyout of his first option, and if all three options are exercised, he could earn up to $29.75 million, with the possibility for escalators and up to an additional $1.8 million in each option year through innings pitched thresholds, a source said. The club has not confirmed those details.

"I think if you wrote up the script exactly the way it all happened and you pitched it to Hollywood, I think they’d reject it because they’d think it was a little too far-fetched, quite frankly," president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said.

"Randy's made a lot happen in a very short period of time," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "And every way you look at it, he's set up to continue to have success at the Major League level. It's incredible, and it's kind of beautiful at the same time. And I don't think it's going anywhere in any fashion. This guy has Major League-caliber stuff."

Dobnak was named to the Twins' Opening Day roster on Thursday following a nearly unblemished spring in which he rode an improved slider to 18 strikeouts, no walks and only one earned run allowed in 13 2/3 innings.

The Twins clearly believe in Dobnak's performance and improvement enough to guarantee his place in their Major League plans for the next five seasons. Minnesota's rotation could see a considerable amount of turnover in the next few seasons, but Dobnak should offer some stability in that time alongside Kenta Maeda, who is under contract through 2023.

"We’ve said this to him, privately and publicly here: We think he can be a really important part of our team," Falvey said. "We wouldn’t be making this decision and this commitment if we didn’t feel that way."

The 26-year-old Dobnak owns a career 3.12 ERA in 19 big league appearances across two seasons, including 15 starts. He's set to begin the 2021 season in the bullpen, but he should be Minnesota's next man up to fill a rotation slot, as he did last season, when he made 10 starts and posted a 4.05 ERA. The Twins have particularly valued his versatility in that time and his willingness to bounce between the bullpen and starting rotation as needed.

It was no easy task for assistant general manager Daniel Adler and agent Matt Gaeta to develop the contract, which buys out the remainder of Dobnak's pre-arbitration and arbitration years and gives the Twins options for each of his first three free-agent years. Ultimately, they settled on a contract structure that gives Dobnak and wife Aerial financial security and considerable performance-based benefits in the future while giving Minnesota the long-term commitment it sought.

"His performance on the field has spoken for itself, really all the way through the Minor Leagues and to the big leagues for the last couple of seasons, and this spring he has continued to make strides," Falvey said. "So we’re betting on the long-term potential on Randy, just as Randy is each and every day."

"He does it all and he does it with a smile, and he’s so low-maintenance of a human being," Baldelli said. "He just wants the ball and he just wants to pitch, and he’s willing and able to do pretty much anything to help us win games. We appreciate him very much."

Dobnak remains a throwback player in the modern game -- and that doesn't just have to do with his big mustache. In the era of high-spin four-seam fastballs and ever-increasing velocity, Dobnak pitches to contact with his heavy sinker, and he generated the highest ground-ball rate (62.1 percent) of any pitcher who threw at least 40 innings last season.

"With the stuff that he has and the ability to turn the ball over, sink the ball but also command his pitches very well, he's shown great feel for his offspeed stuff, his slider is ever-improving, and we consider it a weapon," Baldelli said. "And in a day where there's a lot of pitchers that pitch in a very similar fashion and the velos are through the roof and guys that have tremendous carry are all over the place everywhere you look, Randy does something different."

Much like his style of pitching, nothing about Dobnak's path as a Major Leaguer has been conventional. How many pitchers have had to leave the team in the middle of a pennant chase to get married because he'd scheduled the nuptials without even considering the possibility that he could have become a big leaguer?

Dobnak has made it work. And it's safe to say that this contract is worth a heck of a lot more than a collection of Uber fares.

"It's been a crazy ride, and I guess you could say this is only the beginning," Dobnak said. "And if I had to say one thing, I think my dad said it pretty well the other day, He said, I can use this to be an example for if you work hard, stay humble to yourself and don't let anybody get in the way of anything, anything can come true."