ST. PAUL -- In early October, just days after watching the Twins get swept out of the playoffs by the Yankees in part because of their rotation woes, Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey sat in a media session with reporters and vowed the team would “target impact pitching” this offseason.
But as the offseason unfolded, the best arms went elsewhere: New York and Washington gave Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg record-breaking deals. Philadelphia, Arizona and Toronto landed Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu, respectively. American League Central rival White Sox sprung for Dallas Keuchel.
On Tuesday, Dec. 31, the Twins finally struck, making two deals to bolster their starting rotation, though they perhaps weren’t the “impact” moves fans were hoping for at the beginning of the offseason. The Twins announced the signings of a pair of veterans, Rich Hill and Homer Bailey, to one-year contracts for the 2020 season.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations throughout the winter. Some come together and some don’t,” Falvey said. “Today with both Rich Hill and Homer Bailey, we feel like we’ve added two guys with a lot of experience that we’re seen some different things from.”
Hill, who will miss part of the season, signed for $3 million with incentives that can take him to $9.5 million, a source confirmed, and Bailey’s deal is for $7 million, with incentives that kick in based on innings pitched.
Hill, a 39-year-old lefty who missed time because of injury last season, was effective while healthy, posting a 2.45 earned-run average in 58 2/3 innings and 13 starts. The veteran underwent elbow surgery this offseason and is expected to be out for the first couple months next season.
“I’m 100 percent confident I’ll be back,” Hill told MLB.com earlier this winter. “I’m looking forward to 2020. If I didn’t think I could come back and help win a championship, I wouldn’t have had the surgery. I can already tell a difference in the way I feel and haven’t picked up a ball, which will happen after the first of the year. I think this surgery could be at the forefront of something important moving forward with elbow injuries.”
Hill previously underwent Tommy John surgery; his latest surgery was known as a “primary revision.” For his career, Hill is 65-42 with a 3.82 ERA in parts of 15 seasons.
While Falvey said it was probably a little early to put a perfect timetable on it, the hope is that Hill would be pitching in rehab games in May with June as a reasonable target for a debut.
“It’s something our doctors have looked into, and we understand there are risks with this, but in our minds, we feel there are risks with a lot of different pitchers, and that’s just the reality of investing in this group,” Falvey said. “But I would say his physical, it felt like he was in a really good spot as he progresses through the rehab.”
Bailey, 33, started last season with the Royals before being dealt to the Athletics. He posted a 4.57 ERA in 163 1/3 innings over 31 starts with the two teams. His best season came in 2013 with the Cincinnati Reds, who he pitched for during his first 12 seasons, when he posted a 3.49 ERA in 32 starts, securing a six-year contract extension afterward.
But that extension didn’t work out as planned for the Reds when Bailey’s 2014 season was cut short as he dealt with injury. He underwent Tommy John surgery the next year, wiping out nearly his entire 2015 and 2016 seasons.
The right-hander was the seventh overall pick in 2004 and has pitched in parts of 13 seasons, mainly for the Reds, posting a career 4.57 ERA.
“We tracked him really closely in the second half of last year, our scouts and our staff and everyone who watched him with Oakland,” Falvey said. “He was doing some things we felt could be continued to be built upon and really allow for him to be as successful as possible. In his case, we feel the version he finished the year as in Oakland is someone we’re going to see a lot more of next year for our team.”
The Twins entered the offseason with just one starting pitcher under contract — Jose Berrios — with Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson and Michael Pineda hitting free agency and the club holding an option on Martin Perez, which it declined.
The Twins retained both Odorizzi and Pineda, after Odorizzi accepted the one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer early in the offseason and Pineda was signed to a two-year deal. Pineda will be out of action for the first 39 games of the 2020 season as he finishes the rest of a 2019 suspension for testing positive for a banned diuretic.
This offseason, the Twins also re-signed Sergio Romo, added veteran Tyler Clippard to the bullpen and signed backstop Alex Avila to a one-year deal, while non-tendering first baseman C.J. Cron, which put them in the market for a corner infielder. The Twins have been pursuing former MVP Josh Donaldson, a third baseman, this offseason.
“I would anticipate us still focusing on a position player, for sure, to add to this club, I would think,” Falvey said. “The specific position, I think, maybe is in question at this point depending on how the conversations go. And then (we’re) continuing to stay engaged in the pitching market.”
And with about a month and a half until pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers, Fla., for spring training, the Twins are still looking for ways to upgrade, with Falvey saying Dec. 31 wouldn’t be their “final two comments on players this offseason,” as the team continues to engage with players and agents.
“There’s a lot of impact talent on this team. Now, we have to use the remainder of the offseason just as we have every year to try and find ways to augment that,” he said. “Could it be through trade or free agency? We’re still having those conversations, and I would imagine we’ll continue to have those until we’re in Fort Myers and maybe even beyond that, if history serves as any guide.”