Recovering Twins welcome Kenta Maeda back, seek healthier season Cristian Javier, Astros agree to $64M, 5-year contract

MINNEAPOLIS – When Kenta Maeda takes the mound for Minnesota for the first time in the 2023 season, having waited 19 months between appearances.

The Twins are eager to get the right-hander back in their rotation, which is part of the theme of the cheer associated with this team heading into spring training after an injury-ravaged 2022.

“Time has flown by relatively quickly,” Maeda recently said through an interpreter, reflecting on his rehab following Tommy John’s elbow surgery. “But you never know. On the first pitch I throw on a major league mound, I can get so nervous that I could drill somebody. So be careful.”

Maeda showed off his dry sense of humor when he spoke in Japanese to reporters at the team’s annual fan festival at Target Field on January 28th. He stated that his arm is “100% ready” for camp, which is officially starting for the Twins’ pitchers and catchers at the Fort. Myers, Florida.

Maeda last performed on August 21, 2021. After 11 days, he underwent surgery to replace the ligaments. He could have returned to the game in September of last year, but once the Twins fizzled out, they decided to play it safe and leave him on the sidelines until 2023.

Maeda, the 2020 AL Cy Young honors runner-up, dropped to a 4.66 ERA over 21 starts in 2021 before the injury became too serious. Last year, the opposition didn’t have a hitting average or strikeouts per nine innings, but only the opportunity to reflect on their strategy, building up their overall body strength to be ready for limitless action this season.

“There was so much discomfort before the operation. Obviously there are restrictions on movement immediately after the operation, but now everything is free, whether it’s playing baseball or just doing daily activities,” Maeda said. “Everything seems free.”

Fellow starting pitcher Chris Paddack, who had just arrived in Minnesota on an exchange with San Diego, joined Maeda on the Tommy John recovery circuit after just five starts. Paddak won’t be back until midway through the season, and neither will the prospect. Royce Lewis in his return from yet another repair of a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Major injuries are nearly impossible to prevent. Smaller issues plagued the Twins in 2022, enough anxiety for them to change head athletic coaches and hire Nick Paparest from Oakland. This winter, Paparest has personally met with several players.

“It’s easy to say that when a guy has a specific problem, the comeback plan should be prescribed the same way for everyone with the same problem,” said Derek Falvey, president of baseball operations. “Well, some guys have a different tolerance. Some guys are good at playing through certain things. So, Nick gets to know the players, that’s going to be important.”

Alex Kirilloff will have the most viewed wrist in camp.

The 2016 first-round draft pick’s ascent to the center of the slugging order has been severely hampered by his health. Each of his first two seasons in the big leagues was halted due to wrist surgery, a vital joint for any hitter.

After a series of setbacks last August, Kirilloff opted for a shortening procedure that involved deliberately breaking and then shaving off the ulna to reduce friction around it. The 25-year-old, who could have been either a regular left fielder or first baseman, said at TwinsFest that he’s aiming for mostly normal spring training with minimal restrictions.

“I kind of just take it day by day. But it’s nice, and I’m very optimistic,” Kirilloff said. “They cut open my bone, so there’s definitely some pain and stuff, but in terms of pain, it’s good.”

Second baseman Jorge PolancoA sore knee limited one of the team’s real iron men to just 104 games last season, after appearing in 94% of games in the previous three years.

“Sometimes we play painfully, with little pain or something. But with such an injury, I could not cope,” Polanco said, adding later: “I worked on it almost every day. I’m ready to go.”

HOUSTON ⁠ — Pitcher Christian Xavier and the Houston Astros on Friday agreed to a five-year, $64 million contract that avoided a salary arbitration hearing.

Javier receives a $2 million signing bonus due within 30 days of the commissioner’s office approval of the deal, as well as a $3 million salary this season, $7 million in 2024, $10 million in 2025 and $21 million in each of the next two years.

His salary in the last two years could increase depending on the Cy Young Award vote, to $6 million in 2026 and $8 million in 2027. He will receive a $2 million promotion for each first place, $1 million for second place, and $500,000 for third to fifth.

Javier has the right to block deals with 10 teams without his consent in 2026 and 2027.

A 25-year-old right-hander, Javier went 11-9 with a 2.54 ERA in 25 starts and five assist appearances last year, striking out 198 and walking 52 in 148 2/3 innings. He set career records for wins, ERAs, strikeouts, and innings.

Javier won both of his postseason starts, pitching 11 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 3 of the AL Championship Series against the Yankees and in Game 4 of the World Series against Philadelphia.

He started the pair without a hitter, pitching seven innings for the Yankees on June 25 and six innings in a game for the Phillies—only the second no-hitter in World Series history.

Javier requested $3.5 million in arbitration and was offered $3 million. He earned $749,100 last year.


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