FORT MYERS, Fla. — On his first day with the Twins, veteran right-hander Lance Lynn was asked about the risk he was taking in turning down multiyear security to pitch on a one-year, $12 million deal in 2018.
“I don’t think I’m taking a risk at all,” Lynn said. “I get a chance to play in the big leagues against the best players in the world. Whether it’s one year or multiple years, you still have to do your job. If I do what I’ve done my whole career, I’ll be fine and if I don’t then I didn’t deserve anything that goes beyond this year anyways.”
With incentives, the 30-year-old Lynn would push his one-year guarantee to $14 million if he reaches 180 innings for a Twins team he sees as a legitimate postseason contender, a prospect the Ole Miss product from outside Indianapolis became quite familiar with during his time with the St. Louis Cardinals.
He also could head back out onto the free agent market next winter, this time without draft pick compensation being attached. Or he might opt to put down roots at Target Field, where he has yet to pitch despite taking the mound in 27 different big-league parks in his career.
“I grew up in Indiana,” he said. “I like the cold.”
Lynn credited his familiarity with setup man Zach Duke, his Cardinals teammate the past two years, and newly signed slugger Logan Morrison, with whom he shared offseason workouts at Cressey Sports Performance in Jupiter, Fla., with helping him settle on the Twins as his new team despite the potential of more dollars and years elsewhere.
“You guys know Logan briefly but you know it’s hard not to hear him,” Lynn said. “He’s great for a lot of different things, but he tells you the truth. When it came down to choosing at the end, I got his opinion and Zach Duke’s. Both of them I think highly of as people and players, so it was a pretty easy choice after I got their input.”
Would Lynn, a former all-star and two-time World Series participant with three seasons of 15 or more wins, pitch this season with a chip on his shoulder after falling well short of his expected free-agent haul?
“The chip on the shoulder has been there since I was born,” he said. “That’s not changed. This market hasn’t changed that. That’s something I use to compete. It helps drive me.”
Lynn, due to throw three innings or 50 pitches in his Twins debut on Tuesday against the Baltimore Orioles, should initially slot into the back end of a revamped Twins rotation that could open with a four-man look while awaiting Ervin Santana’s return from Feb. 6 finger surgery. Scouts, however, view Lynn as a solid No. 3 starter with the potential to handle the No. 2 slot when he’s at his best.
Lynn joins trade acquisition Jake Odorizzi, the likely Opening Day starter on March 29 in Baltimore, along with holdovers Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson in the rotation.
With a career earned run average of 3.38 and a career nine-inning strikeout rate of 8.5, Lynn has the proven durability and excellence to make him a potential one-year bargain. He came back from Tommy John surgery that cost him the entire 2016 season to make 33 starts with a 3.43 ERA last season.
He then turned down a qualifying offer of $17.4 million from the St. Louis Cardinals, which means the Twins will give up their third-round draft pick (No. 95 overall) in the June draft as compensation for signing Lynn.
“There’s a certain grittiness to the way Lance goes about his job that hopefully will pervade its way through our clubhouse to some degree,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “It’s just another high-end piece for us. I just think he’s going to be who he is. We’re not going to ask him to change. We like what he’s done.”
Lynn, who won a World Series ring as a rookie in 2011, benefited from a group of pitching mentors with the Cardinals that included Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, John Lackey, Jake Westbrook and ex-Twin Kyle Lohse.
“I had a good group of, I guess, elderly pitchers,” he said, drawing laughter during a news conference carried live on MLB Network. “I’m probably going to get a text from somebody. I always had the fire and competitiveness. Sometimes it got a little out of control because I just like to win. They helped me harness it to become the pitcher I am now and the person.”