Pineda has been one of the success stories of the current front office when it comes to free agent acquisitions. In between a suspension and time on the Injured List, he threw 260 innings across three seasons and accumulated a 3.94 ERA.
It seemed like it was a given Pineda was on his way out at this July’s trade deadline. Lo and behold, here we are near year’s end and Pineda is still in Minnesota. It was reported that there just wasn’t a whole lot of interest in Big Mike from contenders at the deadline, and for several good reasons. The Twins may be wise to consider these reasons this winter as they weigh the idea of bringing Big Mike back to Target Field.
It may be jumping the gun to say Pineda’s health is “declining” as he’s had somewhat frequent IL trips for the entirety of his Twins career. The Twins originally signed him coming off of Tommy John surgery. After an expected debut late in the 2018 season was called off due to a torn meniscus, Big Mike was on and off the IL in 2019 with recurring knee issues. He then had a freak forearm injury after being hit with a comebacker earlier this year and just recently was reactivated after missing time due to an oblique strain.
Pineda will be 33 years old in 2022. While many pitchers can continue being effective into their early and mid 30s, Pineda’s body has been through a lot in his career. Things like knee injuries and pulled obliques can have long standing repercussions with athletes and can certainly be recurrent injuries. Teams in need of a starting pitcher at the deadline likely weighed the chances of Pineda actually being healthy down the stretch and passed. Rightfully so, as Pineda still didn’t look right and hit the IL shortly thereafter.
The Twins have a significant amount of innings to fill in 2022. They may be wise to consider just how many of those innings they can really count on Pineda to fill.
Walking the Tightrope
For the first time since Pineda became a full time member of the Twins rotation, it’s fair to question just what quality of innings you can expect from him moving forward. Once possessing a mid 90s fastball, Pineda averaged a respectable 92.5 on his heater in 2019 and 92.1 in 2020. In 2021 Pineda is averaging just 90.1 mph, two entire ticks off of his fastball in just one year. More recently it’s been rare to see Pineda even hit 90 mph.
This decline in velocity could be tied to the aforementioned injuries he’s dealt with this year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it can be disregarded. Pineda likely isn’t getting any healthier and his fastball has already declined to the point where not being at 100% appears to leave him with a sub 90mph fastball.
We’ve seen the high-wire act it takes to succeed in the majors with a fastball that fails to reach 90. Arms like Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe have flashed success but have never been able to fully maintain Major League success for long periods. Pineda, whose repertoire consists of two pitches being thrown near 85% of the time, likely wouldn’t be an exception.
Big Mike may not have been on the field as often as the Twins hoped these last three years, but he’s been one of their steadiest arms when healthy. Headed into a season where every pitching acquisition will be incredibly important, Pineda is a risk to both the quantity and quality of innings he can provide.
It’s entirely possible that Pineda tries to leverage his successful three years in Minnesota into one last payday. In a vacuum, his previous performance could likely net him another multi-year deal with upwards of $8-10m per year, and it’d be fair to look for good money.
I’d argue that in order for Big Mike to return to Minnesota, it likely has to come on a much cheaper deal to account for the risk involved on the Twins end. The Twins need to avoid making such a risky pitcher one of their main additions to a currently bare 2022 starting rotation just because he’s a familiar face.
Pineda was passed by at the deadline by contenders for several concerns that still very much exist. The Twins, having several additions to be made and needing to hit on all of them, need to be extremely careful if they want to pursue a reunion. Do you agree?