LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Get ready for some nail-biting ninth innings.
The Twins agreed to sign veteran reliever Fernando Rodney to a one-year, $4.5 million contract. The deal includes incentives in which he could earn up to $6 million. There's an option for 2019 for $4.25 million, or Rodney receives a $250,000 buyout.
Rodney, who will be 41 on Opening Day, is headed for his 16th major league season and will play for his ninth team. The deal was officially announced Friday.
Known for wearing his cap off to one side and firing an imaginary arrow into the sky after saves, Rodney had a 4.23 ERA and 39 saves for Arizona in 2017. After posting a gaudy 12.60 ERA in April, he had a 2.38 ERA the rest of the way. He did not give up an earned run in May or June.
"Any time you can add veteran arms to your pitching staff, it makes a big difference," Twins starter Kyle Gibson said in a text message. "We saw the difference a guy like [Matt] Belisle can have on guys last year, and Rodney will probably have a similar effect while being another reliable back-end arm for us."
Rodney struck out 10.6 batters per nine innings last season, up from his 9.0 career average. But he also walks 4.2 batters per nine innings. As a result, Rodney has pitched into — and out of — plenty of jams. He blew six save opportunities last season.
His save celebration is in honor of his hometown of La Flecha — Spanish for "arrow" — in the Dominican Republic. He tilts his cap to the left, he says, to confuse hitters looking for the pitcher's eyes, and to honor his father, who passed away shortly before Rodney made his major league debut in 2002. Ulise Rodney was a fisherman who wore his cap that way.
A three-time All-Star, Rodney has 300 career saves, with 48 in 2012 and 2014. He pitched his first seven seasons for the Tigers; he also pitched for the Angels, Rays, Mariners, Cubs, Padres and Marlins.
His fastball has averaged 95 miles per hour, including a high of 96.5 in 2013. As a 40-year-old, Rodney averaged 94.6 mph last season, but the key to his success is an excellent changeup. It is 10 to 12 mph slower than his heater, and he will throw it at any count.
Rodney is expected to be the Twins closer while guiding some of the younger pitchers, such as Trevor Hildenberger, who could develop into closers in the near future. This lines up with what General Manager Thad Levine said Monday when asked about in-house candidates to close games. The Twins are expected to continue to look for bullpen help.
"Trying to prognosticate who's the next impact guy out of your pen is a little more challenging to do," Levine said. "We would prefer not to force that into action early in the season but kind of let that happen organically over the course of the season or the next year."
The signing comes after righthander Brandon Kintzler agreed to a two-year, $10 million deal with the Nationals early on Friday. The Twins traded Kintzler to Washington on July 31, and both parties were open to a reunion. Kintzler opted to remain with the Nationals.
"What he did for this franchise was terrific," Levine said following the Rule 5 draft on Thursday. "The perfect guy at the perfect time. He deserves all the credit for that, and we wish him the best of luck."
After Kintzler's trade, the Twins used Belisle as their closer. Kintzler had 28 saves for the Twins, and Belisle had nine.
Righthander Juan Nicasio, who had a 2.61 ERA in 76 games with three different clubs last season, was also on the Twins' radar, but he signed with Seattle for two years and $17 million.