After three consecutive years of 90-plus losses, Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan is hoping a rare in-season, free-agent signing will keep his team in contention the rest of the summer.
Minnesota signed first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales to a one-year, prorated, $12 million US contract on Sunday. The Cuban-born slugger, who hit .277 in 156 games for the Seattle Mariners last season with 23 homers and 80 runs batted in, has been in Miami working out while waiting to sign.
"Why not the Twins?" Ryan asked during a press conference announcing the signing. "I read there were probably a handful of clubs that were chasing Kendrys. We were ahead of many of those clubs in the standings."
The Twins have lost 291 games the last three seasons, but are 29-31 this year, five games back in the American League Central and 2 1/2 back in the wild card standings.
Morales, who turns 31 on June 20, had been unsigned because teams were hesitant to surrender a compensatory first-round pick to sign him. Since the Twins signed him after the MLB draft, they do not have to give up a coveted pick.
The prorated portion of Morales's contract will total slightly more than $7.4 million.
"It just made sense," said Ryan, who is back in the GM chair after stepping away during spring training to battle skin cancer.
Desperate for DH
For Morales, the deal gives him an opportunity to provide some power to an inconsistent Twins offence in desperate need of a full-time designated hitter.
"It wasn't easy for a baseball player to watch baseball games when he knows he can play," Morales said through an interpreter. "But you have to be mentally tough and be prepared so when this opportunity does come around, you're ready to do what you gotta do."
In 620 career games, Morales has 102 home runs and 345 RBIs. He also missed 1 1/2 years after breaking his leg celebrating a game-ending home run on May 29, 2010, when he was with the Los Angeles Angels.
Since Morales is out of options and not injured, the Twins can't send him to the minors to shake off the rust from missing the season's first 60 games. He'll work out with the team and take the field when he's ready.
"It's a day to day thing, I'll be working out and talking to [manager Ron Gardenhire] and the coaching staff," Morales said. "When I'm ready, I'll be in there. We just want to do it the right way."
Morales greeted his new teammates in the clubhouse before Sunday's game against the Houston Astros and spent some time with Tony Oliva, Minnesota's most famous Cuban-born player.
Since the Twins aren't known for making splashy moves, especially during the season, players viewed the signing as a signal from management that they're serious about contending.
"It's a good signing. A lot of us are real excited right now," Joe Mauer said. "It tells you how close this division is and us adding is definitely a great thing."
To make room on the 25-man roster, Minnesota released Jason Kubel, who appeared in 798 games over parts of eight seasons with the Twins. He was hitting .224 this year, but just .158 since April.