The Twins and Pablo López agreed on Monday to a four-year contract extension worth $73.5 million, ensuring that the team’s newest starting pitcher will stay in the Twin Cities through the 2027 season. López has been dynamite in his first four starts for Minnesota, allowing only five total runs and holding the current league crown in strikeouts, edging out Gerrit Cole and Jacob deGrom.
It’s not a surprise to find out the Twins are big fans of López. Otherwise, they would not have traded three years of a cost-controlled Luis Arraez, who is coming off a batting average title, a Silver Slugger award, and an All-Star appearance, in order to acquire his services. The extension would have made sense on the day of the trade; it makes even more sense with the very real chance that López has found another gear.
While it’s unlikely that López will maintain a .236 BABIP, what he certainly does get to keep is his new sweeper. Whether you call it a sweeper, a slider, a slutter, or play into the “extreme cutter” idea and call it an axe murderer or something, his newest pitch has stymied hitters early this season. The low-to-mid 80s breaker has induced a 50% whiff rate, a significant bump from his curve’s career 36% whiff rate and a galaxy above the old cutter’s 21%. While we’re talking a small sample, data like these can be significant in small sample sizes.
The Twins tend to have a reluctance about getting into long-term deals with pitchers, and while that keeps them from having any major albatross contracts on their roster, it also means that they risk the occasional awkward moment when they’re a competitive team that’s about to lose most of their rotation. They have a slim edge in the AL Central as of Tuesday morning, but there are serious concerns about the starting five once 2023 finishes. Sonny Gray, Kenta Maeda, and Tyler Mahle all hit free agency this winter. All three have team-friendly contracts — they make $23.1 million combined this year — which means that retaining them would be a lot more expensive. López wasn’t set to be a free agent until after 2024, but just getting one of those arms committed long-term is an improvement over a rotation of Joe Ryan and four emoji shrugs.
That last reference may be a bit mean, but the truth it would be quite hard to make a passable 2024 rotation with who the Twins have available in the organization. The team’s best pitching prospect, Jordan Balazovic, is coming off a season ruined by a knee injury, and whether or not the story of a sucker punch is 100% accurate, he’s had to deal with the broken jaw resulting from a February fight. He, Louie Varland, and Simeon Woods Richardson may all eventually contribute at the major league level, but it’s definitely a risk for a team in contention to count on that happening. With the Twins’ current core of talent, they ought to enter every season in contention in a weak division like the AL Central. Keeping López at least makes their future rotation issue less daunting to deal with.
Before the season, ZiPS projected a four-year López extension, including a discount for the final year of arbitration, at $79 million over four years. So even without any pitching embiggenment, this is a Perfectly Cromulent Signing. Full-fat ZiPS in-season likes López even more than his current rest-of-season projection, and the contract looks that much better from Minnesota’s point-of-view:
ZiPS Projection – Pablo López
ZiPS would now suggest a four-year, $95 million extension for López, so there’s not much to complain about from Minnesota’s side of the deal. López may give up some money by not testing free agency, but given the uncertain fate in store for anyone who pitches, locking in some cash at a price that isn’t highway robbery has real value.
The Twins will still have some more work to do, and probably more cash to spend, to stabilize their rotation past the 2023 season. But keeping López in horrifying Twins road caps apparently stolen from the Marlins is a good and important step for the team to take.