MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins have taken another step toward deepening their starting pitching.
This boost won't take effect for a while.
The Twins signed former New York Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda to a two-year, $10 million contract Wednesday, a move made with 2019 in mind. Pineda is recovering from Tommy John surgery performed July 18, putting him on track to return to a major league mound possibly late in the 2018 season.
"We all know, when he's healthy, what he can do," manager Paul Molitor said during baseball's winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
For now, the focus will be on Pineda's rehabilitation from the elbow ligament replacement procedure.
"Obviously, it's going to run up near the end of the year," Molitor said. "At the very worst, we're hoping he goes into the next offseason being able to do his regular work and not worry about rehabbing and be ready for '19."
Pineda will make $2 million in 2018 and $8 million in 2019. He went 8-4 with a 4.39 ERA in 17 starts with 92 strikeouts in 96⅓ innings for the Yankees last year before being sidelined.
"Never having spoken to him until recently, just encouraged by his energy and desire to, when he gets healthy, come back and help a team," Molitor said. "Thankfully, he chose us."
The 6-foot-7, 260-pound pitcher began his career with the Seattle Mariners, making the American League All-Star team as a rookie in 2011. He was acquired by the Yankees the next winter in a four-player trade for catcher Jesus Montero, but then a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder kept him out of action for two full seasons.
Upon his return to the Yankees' rotation in 2014, Pineda was ejected from a late-April start and eventually suspended for 10 games by MLB for using pine tar on the mound to grip the ball. He went to the disabled list with a muscle injury around his shoulder and didn't return until mid-August.
The 28-year-old posted a cumulative 4.56 ERA in 76 starts over his final three seasons with the Yankees, with 455 strikeouts in 432⅔ innings. In his second start of 2017, Pineda took a perfect game through 20 outs against the Tampa Bay Rays and compiled 11 strikeouts in 7⅔ innings. He first complained of elbow trouble after a June 30 appearance and pitched only once more before the surgery.
The Twins ranked 19th out of 30 teams last year with an ERA of 4.73 by their starters. They were last in the major leagues in 2016. Returning for the 2018 rotation will be a solid trio of Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson, with significant questions beyond them.
Sixteen pitchers took turns at least once in 2017, including rookie Adalberto Mejia's 21 starts. Trevor May is one candidate, another Tommy John patient who missed the entire 2017 season. Another option is Phil Hughes, who is under contract for $26.4 million over two more years. He has made only 20 starts with a 5.91 ERA in the past two seasons, each cut short by thoracic outlet syndrome that required rib surgery to alleviate shoulder trouble.
So chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine have expressed an eagerness to aggressively pursue upgrades unrelated to Pineda. Yu Darvish is the most prominent free agent frequently mentioned as possible acquisition for the Twins.
"It's going to be a tremendous get for whoever has the opportunity to get his name on a contract," Molitor said. "He's still out there. We'll see what happens."
There are always potential trade targets, with plenty of top prospects and young position players for the Twins to dangle in such negotiations.
"Still optimistic that something really good is going to happen for us here," Molitor said.
The other priority is finding a closer, having traded All-Star Brandon Kintzler to Washington before the non-waiver deadline and allowed his replacement Matt Belisle to become a free agent. Glen Perkins is expected to retire.
"We're open-minded we may have our future closer on our current roster, but do we want to thrust that person into that role come Opening Day? Ideally, probably not," Levine said earlier in the week.