The Twins have their new closer, and there’s no doubt about that job title.
“They told me I was going to be the closer,” Fernando Rodney said Friday, shortly after passing the Twins’ physical and signing a one-year contract with a team option for 2019.
The 40-year-old righthander, who owns 300 career saves with eight different teams, will earn $4.5 million next season, with incentives making the deal worth as much as $6 million, and he’ll do it in a job that has had plenty of turnover since All-Star reliever Glen Perkins began experiencing shoulder problems three years ago.
Kevin Jepsen, Brandon Kintzler and Matt Belisle have each taken a turn closing games for the Twins, but the team entered the offseason with no experienced closer on the roster.
Twins General Manager Thad Levine told Rodney, who saved 39 games last season for the Diamondbacks, that he was the pitcher they targeted for the role in 2018.
“When I met Mr. Levine in Orlando, he told me I’m the first guy they invited to talk,” Rodney said in a conference call with reporters. “They think I can help in the bullpen.”
The Dominican righthander joins a bullpen with Trevor Hildenberger and Taylor Rogers handling setup roles, pending further trades or free-agent signings, and a handful of projected future closing candidates, such as Jake Reed and J.T. Chargois, in the minor leagues. The Twins eventually hope to turn over the ninth inning to internal candidates, but for now Rodney had appeal for his experience and steadiness.
His walk percentage — 4.4 walks per nine innings for his career — sometimes turns save situations into tense moments, but “when I have walked somebody, two guys in a row, I try to calm down and feel like my blood freezing to control the game,” he said. “That’s the way I use to get out of the inning.”
The 5-11, 230-pounder normally does it with strikeouts; his career strikeout rate of 9.0 per nine innings, generated with a fastball that still reaches 96 mph and a changeup about 10 mph slower, is higher than any Twins closer except Joe Nathan, and he’s been above 10.2 per nine in four of his past five seasons.
“I feel good. I feel like [I’m] 29,” Rodney said. “I’ve learned a lot about this game. I know how to prepare myself for the game, be more focused. Now I’m going to be 41, I feel more comfortable. I make good pitches.”
Rodney hasn’t appeared in a World Series since 2006, when he was with the Tigers, which was a big reason he chose the Twins’ offer over those from the Tigers, Mets or Rangers, he said.
“I’m most excited about the team. They have a lot of young guys, [and are in] good position to win the World Series this year. … The [AL Central] Division this year is not going to be too strong.”
• The Twins officially released ByungHo Park so he can return to play in South Korea. Park hit 12 homers in 62 games with the Twins, all in 2016, but batted .191.
• Joel Skinner, a former major league catcher, will be the manager of the Twins’ AAA team in Rochester next season, a source confirmed. Skinner, 56, was interim manager of the Cleveland Indians when Charlie Manuel was fired in 2002 and had a 35-41 record.
• The Twins signed three players to minor league contracts, including Taylor Featherston, who played 17 games for Tampa Bay last season. Outfielder James Ramsey and catcher Wynston Sawyer, neither of whom has advanced past Class AAA, also joined the organization.