12/16/11 11:59 AM EST
Twins officially introduce slugger Willingham
Free agent signs three-year deal, will likely play right field
By Rhett Bollinger / MLB.com
Willingham, 32, signed a three-year deal worth $21 million on Thursday, which was two days after news broke that the two parties were close to an agreement. Willingham's deal came hours before the Rockies reportedly reached a three-year agreement with Twins slugger Michael Cuddyer worth $31.5 million.
He expressed excitement about joining the Twins in a conference call with his agent, Matt Sosnick, Twins general manager Terry Ryan and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.
"I felt wanted there," Willingham said about Minnesota. "You look at a lot of factors that go into signing with a team and I'm a family orientated person so location was important. I'm close to home and in the same time zone [as Alabama] so that was key. I also talked to a lot of players and they said it's a great organization from top to bottom."
Willingham hit .246 with a .332 on-base percentage and .477 slugging percentage in 136 games last season with the A's. He also set career highs in home runs (29), RBIs (98) and runs scored (69).
It was a bit of a departure from his norm, as he's a career .262 hitter, with a .361 on-base percentage and .475 slugging percentage, but he showed more power than usual. His previous high was 26 homers in 2006.
"I think I'm at my best as an offensive player when I'm going deep into counts and working walks and seeing a lot of pitches," Willingham said. "I got away from that last year but the home runs and RBIs went up. So I don't really know what caused that but I'm not going to complain either because I felt like I had a pretty good year."
He can also play both corner outfield positions but is expected to be the club's right fielder, with Denard Span in center and Ben Revere in left. Willingham has only played 35 games in right field over his eight-year career. But he fills a need for the Twins as a corner outfielder with power from the right side, and the Twins are confident he can handle the transition to right field.
"We stayed in touch with Matt and Josh during the fall and once we got into the winter, everybody knew we were looking for a corner outfielder, preferably with a right-handed bat," Ryan said. "Josh fits that mold perfectly. He has good power and takes good at-bats. And his makeup is what we're looking for. We think he's athletic enough to move to right field."
Signing Willingham also seems to indicate the Twins are moving on from free-agent outfielder Jason Kubel.
"It's sensitive when you Draft and sign players along the way," Ryan said. "There's no secret that we're trying to retain players here, but we got to the point of no return. We didn't want to be left without and consequently this is the situation that we felt was best at the time and we feel like it's going to be a good fit for the next three years."
Willingham spent two seasons with the Nationals from 2009-10 after playing his first five seasons with the Marlins.
The Twins do not forfeit a Draft pick for signing Willingham, as he's a modified Type A free agent. The A's receive a compensation pick in the second round because the Twins' No. 2 overall pick is protected.
Willingham said he considered four teams, but he ultimately decided to join the Twins over the Reds.
"There's no organization in baseball that sets itself up as a family more than Minnesota," Sosnick said. "Josh had a lot of offers but Josh and his wife, Ginger, made it clear their top choices were Minnesota and Cincinnati. But once it shook out, Minnesota was the most viable of the two places."