Twins sign four, including Morneau
AL MVP inks one-year deal; Punto, Ford, Rincon also locked in
MINNEAPOLIS -- Four down, two to go.The Twins took a big step in their arbitration process on Friday when they agreed to deals with four of their six arbitration-eligible players. American League MVP Justin Morneau agreed to a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the club while the Twins also completed contracts with three other arbitration-eligible players -- third baseman Nick Punto, pitcher Juan Rincon and outfielder Lew Ford. Punto agreed to a two-year, $4.2 million contract, Rincon settled for a one-year, $2 million contract and Ford received a one-year, $985,000 deal. Morneau, 25, led the club in home runs and RBIs last season (34 HR, 130 RBI) along with a .321 batting average as he became the first Twins player to earn MVP honors since Rod Carew in 1977. The agreement between the club and the first baseman came at the midpoint between the $5 million Morneau sought and the $4 million the club had offered. "He's a talented young player, and he's given a good effort as far as working at his game," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said of Morneau. "I think there is a certain maturation that we've seen in Justin. He put up numbers, and consequently that earned him the MVP. When you do that, you're going to be rewarded, and he was." The Twins had made public their desire to try and sign Morneau to a multi-year deal, but when it came down to it, the two sides weren't able to agree on the terms. That doesn't mean that it's been ruled out from happening in the near future. "I guess both sides would always be open for discussion," Ryan said. "It just didn't come to conclusion right now on a multi-year deal. We had good talks, extensive talks on a lot of different years or scenarios. We just couldn't get together on what the dollars were, and that's not unusual." Punto is coming off his first season having a starting role, as he became the Twins' everyday third baseman in early June. The 29-year-old batted .290 with 21 doubles and 45 RBIs in 135 games in '06, as he also established career highs in nearly every offensive category -- games, runs (73), hits (133), doubles, triples (7), RBIs and stolen bases(17). Punto will make $1.8 million this season and $2.4 million in 2008. The reasoning for the team's decision to ink Punto to a two-year deal rather than a single-season pact was quite simple. "He was looking for some security," Ryan said. "Nick's never had a multi-year contract, and this certainly is his biggest pay day. He had a good year for us."
Rincon, 28, was 3-1 with a 2.91 ERA and one save over 74 1/3 innings last season. Over the past three seasons, Rincon has been very consistent for the club, as he's appeared in at least 75 games each year. The right-hander asked for $2.4 million in arbitration, and the Twins offered $1.6 million.Ford spent the 2006 season as a backup, hitting .226 with 18 RBIs in 234 at-bats. It was a disappointing year for the outfielder, who has seen his numbers trail off since he had a breakout year in '04, when he hit .299 with 72 RBIs in 569 at-bats. "Lew had a difficult year," Ryan said. "I don't think there is any question that this past year didn't match up with what he did the previous couple. We need to get him back to the point he was at in '04." In addition to his base salary, Ford could earn $65,000 in performance bonuses: $15,000 for 300 plate appearances, and $25,000 each for 400 and 450 plate appearances. Ford had asked for $1.3 million and had been offered $800,000. The Twins still have two players scheduled for arbitration hearings this month: AL batting champion Joe Mauer, who is seeking $4.5 million and has been offered $3.3 million, and right fielder Michael Cuddyer ($4.25 million vs. $3 million).
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.