On the mound, he has the look of a person who desperately needs to use the bathroom or has an itchy clothing tag which won’t stop bothering him. Michael Pineda is fidgety, twitchy and frankly, uncomfortable to watch. His physical quirks bely the smooth operator on the mound. Over the last 3 years, Pineda has been a model of consistency and excellence for the Twins. As the team answers the question of whether they have started slow or are simply a bad team, they need to decide what to do with Pineda, trade him, or extend him?
In spite of the recency bias which perhaps clouds our judgement of the Twins front office, they are a shrewd bunch. Pineda may have been their shrewdest move in 5 years leading the team.
Pineda was first signed by the Twins to a 2 year, $10 million deal in December 2017. Pineda was coming off a significant injury, so the first year of his deal provided him financial certainty and the Twins the ability to monitor his rehab and potentially hit on a significant lottery ticket for a team which has done little to develop strong organizational pitching depth. Boy, did they win big.
Over 3 seasons with the team, Pineda has now logged approximately 220 innings, managing a 3.59 ERA and 5.7% BB% in that span. The latter half of Pineda’s 2019 and beginning of 2020 season will rightly be colored by a 60 game suspensions for PEDs, but whatever way you want to chop it up, Pineda has been a tremendous success for Minnesota. The front office agreed, giving Pineda a 2 year, $20 million extension in 2019. That’s just $2 million more than J.A. Happ earns, y’all.
Switching focus away from Pineda and to the 2021 team, there’s no escaping the truth. This Twins team is bad. The 2021 season was summed up in one cruel, painful blow when Mitch Garver, the Twins lone hot hitter, had to have surgery after a groin shot foul ball following Tuesday night’s game in Baltimore. I know it’s not what we all wanted, but this team just ain’t it. So what should the Twins do with Pineda as June marches on and the July trade deadline approaches?
On one hand, the answer seems simple. Trade Pineda. This is clearly the organizationally smart, efficient thing to do, a decision, results aside, that the Twins front office seems most likely to make if they decide this Twins team cannot mount a serious playoff challenge. Despite Pineda being on an expiring contract, he is capable and has a track record which suggests he could start a playoff game for a team with a weaker rotation, a fact which could command a solid price. Trading Pineda doesn’t preclude the Twins from re-signing him this offseason. Pineda is clearly comfortable in Minnesota and fond of the organization. However, the consistency of his performance in parts of 3 seasons with the Twins will undoubtedly create a more robust market for Big Mike given his improved health in recent seasons for Minnesota.
If the front office believes the team needs to retool, rather than rebuild (a fair conclusion given the strong core of young players and emergency of high end prospects like Kirilloff and Larnach), they could instead choose to extend Pineda. The Twins have essentially been Cleveland’s opposite organization in recent seasons, struggling to create any meaningful starting pitching pipeline to the majors. This may be on the verge of changing with the Falvey led front office, with Jhoan Duran beginning to dominate at AAA and several other standout options working their way through MiLB.
If the Twins are to ‘retool’ instead of rebuild, let’s consider their rotation. José Berríos is under team control for one more season, an extension seems unlikely. Kenta Maeda, 2020 Cy-Young runner up is under affordable team control but is now a huge question mark, given his abject start to 2021. J.A. Happ and Michael Shoemaker are free agents and may not make it through the season for various reasons. Randy Dobnak is a strong 4th or 5th option. For a team who wants to contend and build a sustainable winner, this is a poor stable of starting pitching options.
So what would an extension look like for Pineda? He’s certainly due for a raise over his last contract. Career long health concerns would likely limit him to a 2 year deal as teams would likely not want to risk adding a third for a pitcher who will be 35 at the end of it. The Twins could offer Pineda a 2 year, $26 million deal which would give him the raise he deserves, still be reasonable value for a pitcher who has provided upwards of 3.0 fWAR in his last 200 IP for the Twins, and raise the floor of the rotation for a team hoping to bounce back in 2022.
What would you do with Pineda, trade him, or extend him?