11:20am: Clippard will be guaranteed $2.75MM, ESPN’s Jeff Passan tweets.
11:13am: The Twins announced Friday that they’ve signed veteran reliever Tyler Clippard to a one-year contract. Minnesota also made its previously reported one-year deal (plus a club option) with Sergio Romo official. The Twins’ 40-man roster is now up to 38 players.
Clippard, an Excel Sports client, spent the 2019 season with the division-rival Indians. After missing the early portion of the year due to a pectoral strain, he debuted near the end of April and generally enjoyed a solid year with the Cleveland organization. In 62 innings — including 5 1/3 unsuccessful innings as an opener — Clippard pitched to a 2.90 ERA (3.89 FIP) with 9.3 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.16 HR/9 and a 31.6 percent ground-ball rate.
Beyond those surface-level numbers, Clippard, 35 in February, excelled in a number of areas. He ranked in the game’s 98th percentile in terms of average exit velocity allowed, at a paltry 85 mph, and his opponents’ hard-hit rate (28.8 percent) landed in the 95th percentile among MLB hurlers. The .260 weighted on-base average (wOBA) to which he held opponents was also among the game’s best and was a near match for the .264 expected wOBA projected by Statcast.
Clippard is an extreme fly-ball pitcher, which likely appealed to a Twins club that deploys a strong defensive outfield but carries a more questionable collection of infielders. He was also lights out against left-handed hitters in 2019 (.123/.210/.255) and has generally held lefties within check throughout his career thanks to his plus changeup. Given both the dearth of quality lefty relievers in free agency this winter and the upcoming implementation of a rule that forces relievers to face at least three hitters (or finish the inning), adding a seasoned arm who lacks notable platoon splits is plenty sensible.
Clippard and Romo will slot into a setup corps behind 2019 breakout closer Taylor Rogers. They’ll join righties Trevor May, Tyler Duffey and Zack Littell among the favorites to bridge the gap between the rotation and Rogers as the Twins look to defend their first AL Central crown in nearly a decade.
Minnesota, of course, still needs to add at least one more starting pitcher to its rotation and is reportedly one of the most aggressive teams in pursuit of top free agent third baseman Josh Donaldson. But even with Clippard on board, the team’s projected payroll checks in a bit north of $107MM. That’s $23MM shy of their franchise record — a mark that has seemed like it could edge north this winter anyhow. GM Thad Levine said early in the offseason that the team’s 101-win season could serve as a launching point to approach owner Jim Pohlad “about being a little more aggressive” in terms of payroll in 2020.