Twins righty Michael Pineda is set to hit free agency this winter, but he again made clear that he hopes to re-sign with the team following last night’s victory. Pineda stressed to Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and others that he “loves” Minnesota and would be happy to return — echoing previous comments about his hope to continue calling Target Field his home. Manager Rocco Baldelli also voiced his own hope that the front office will be able to come to terms on a reunion with Pineda, calling the big righty a “pillar in our clubhouse” and extolling Pineda’s leadership qualities.
There’s no indication the Twins and Pineda have begun extension talks, but Minnesota has already re-signed Pineda once. He’s spent the past four seasons in the Twins organization, playing on a pair of two-year deals ($10MM and $20MM, respectively). It’s been a mixed bag of a season for Pineda, who sports a 3.62 ERA through 109 1/3 innings. He’s missed time due to both an elbow injury and an oblique strain, the former of which surely curbed interest in him at the trade deadline.
Pineda’s average fastball is down to a career-low 90.9 mph, and his 19.2 percent strikeout rate is also a career-low. He’s allowing more hard contact than ever before, both in terms of average exit velocity (91.2 mph) and hard-hit rate (46.1 percent). That said, Pineda is also sporting one of the best walk rates of his career (4.6 percent), the best first-pitch strike rate of his career (69.7 percent) and continues to be one of the best in the game at inducing swings on pitches outside the strike zone.
The Twins have an obvious need for rotation help next season. They traded away Jose Berrios for a pair of high-end prospects at the deadline and lost righty Kenta Maeda to Tommy John surgery. Rookie Bailey Ober has stepped up and laid claim to a 2021 spot with a quietly solid debut campaign. Right-hander Joe Ryan, whom they acquired from the Rays in exchange for Nelson Cruz, has been excellent through the first four starts of his own career. Minnesota has plenty of near-MLB prospects as well — Jordan Balazovic, Jhoan Duran, Josh Winder and Matt Canterino among them — but there’s no experienced starter returning to next year’s staff with Maeda likely to miss the 2022 season.
Minnesota figures to pursue multiple veterans in free agency and via the trade market this winter, as owner Jim Pohlad has already emphatically declared that even after trading Berrios, his club isn’t planning on embarking on a rebuilding effort. A Pineda reunion wouldn’t be the marquee addition for their staff this offseason, but he’d give the team some continuity from a leadership standpoint and some innings at the back of the rotation behind whichever higher-profile arms the Twins ultimately pursue.
Of course, Pineda voicing his own desire to return in no way guarantees the interest will be reciprocated, but Baldelli’s comments at least indicate that he’ll be making his own pitch to the front office to keep Pineda in the fold. Given the injuries Pineda has battled and the drop in fastball velocity, it’s possible the Twins’ front office will simply decide it’s best to move on. At the same time, however, those factors will limit Pineda’s appeal on the market and could force him into an affordable one-year pact, which could pique the club’s interest.