Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
The Twins will offer contracts to Anthony Swarzak, Brian Duensing and Trevor Plouffe by Monday night's deadline, the team confirmed, making them eligible for arbitration and keeping them on the roster for 2014.
Had the Twins chosen not to tender contracts to that arbitration-eligible trio by Monday's 11 p.m. CT deadline, they could have become free agents. Instead, the three will negotiate raises on their salaries for next season, or file to have an independent arbiter decide how much they'll earn, a process the Twins have avoided for nearly a decade.
Duensing, who earned $1.3 million in 2013, his fourth season with the Twins, and Swarzak, who made $502,500 in his third year, are eligible for arbitration because they have more than three seasons of service time. Plouffe, paid $520,000 last season, is among the top 22 percent of two-year players in terms of service time, making him eligible as a so-called "super-two" players.
It's likely that Duensing, who posted a 3.98 ERA in 61 innings, and Plouffe, who batted .254 with 14 home runs, will earn $2 million or more when their contracts are settled, while Swarzak can expect to roughly double his salary. Salaries are normally agreed to without a hearing; no major-league player had his case heard by an arbitrator last winter. The Twins have not been taken to a hearing by a player since Kyle Lohse, who won his case against the Twins in both 2005 and 2006.
The Twins also announced they will hold a press conference at Target Field at 2 p.m. Tuesday. A source with knowledge of the topic said the Twins will announce the signing of right-handed pitcher Ricky Nolasco.
Jim Thome toured the tornado-ravaged neighborhoods around his brother Randy's home in Washington, Ill., last week, and decided to help. He talked the Twins into helping, too.
Thome, the former Twins slugger who grew up in Bartonville, Ill., about 10 miles from the central Illinois town where a series of tornados killed two people and destroyed dozens of homes on Nov. 17, has donated $100,000 to a fund to help victims of the twisters. He also contacted four of his former teams -- the Twins, Indians, Phillies and White Sox, whom he currently works for in a front-office position -- and asked if they would be willing to donate, too.
"We all said, 'Yeah,' right away when Jim called," said Bryan Donaldson, the Twins' senior director of community relations. "We all agreed to donate $5,000 each, so that's another $20,000 going to the Red Cross in central Illinois."
It's not the first time the Twins have donated when a player's home is affected by a natural disaster. When an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011, the Twins donated $25,000 to relief efforts and collaborated with Tsuyoshi Nishioka on a fundraising effort that provided thousands more.
Another former Twin is doing charity work this weekend, too. Justin Morneau will promote hisl Winter Warm-Up Coat Drive on Saturday by helping collect coats at Fan HQ in the Ridgedale Center. Despite being traded to Pittsburgh on Aug. 31, Morneau went ahead with his fourth annual coat drive to benefit needy Twin Cities residents. Morneau will accept new or gently-used coach from donors from 10 a.m.-noon.
For the second straight winter, the Phillies have added a center fielder from the Twins.
This time, it's Clete Thomas, the journeyman outfielder who didn't make the team out of spring training, yet finished the season playing more games in the outfield than any other Twin. Cut from Minnesota's roster last month after batting .214 with four home runs in 92 games last season, Thomas signed a minor-league contract with Philadelphia, the Phillies announced Friday. He will be invited to spring training camp with an opportunity to make the Phillies' roster.
Last December, Philadelphia added another Twins outfielder, Ben Revere, in a trade for two pitchers, Vance Worley and Trevor May. The Phillies also signed another ex-Twins outfielder, Delmon Young, last winter, but later released him.
Thomas, originally a sixth-round draft pick by the Tigers, hit a home run in his Twins debut on April 15, 2012. He spent parts of two seasons with the Twins, batting .208 in 104 games, with 17 RBIs and 108 strikeouts. He didn't join the Twins until June 6 last season, and largely lost his job in September when the Twins traded for Alex Presley, but his 92 games in the outfield led the team, ahead of Oswaldo Arcia's 83 and Aaron Hicks' 81.
ORLANDO -- Mike Pelfrey said repeatedly last summer that he hopes to remain in Minnesota. But the free-agent pitcher's agent made it clear on Wednesday that the Twins have competition for the right-hander.
"There's a possibility [he] could" sign a new contract with the Twins, agent Scott Boras said. But "we've gotten pretty good interest in him from other teams."
Pelfrey went 5-13 with a 5.19 ERA last season with the Twins, his first season back from ligament replacement surgery in his right elbow. But he improved as the season went along, posting a 3.45 ERA in July and August before finishing with a bad September.
Pelfrey, 28, earned $4 million on a one-year contract with the Twins, but his next contract figures to be longer. "He's been offered" multi-year contracts, Boras said. He said he met during the meetings with Twins general manager Terry Ryan, who expressed the Twins' interest in retaining the former first-round pick of the Mets.
Six years after he was traded away, one year after he feared his career was over, shortstop Jason Bartlett is back with the Twins.
Bartlett, who batted .272 in three seasons with the Twins before being shipped to Tampa Bay as part of the deal that brought Delmon Young to Minnesota, has signed a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training, espn.com reported Monday.
Bartlett played three seasons with the Rays and was named to the All-Star team in 2009, before being traded to San Diego, where he played two seasons. After the Padres released him in August 2011, Bartlett remained out of baseball in 2012.
Bartlett, now 34, figures to compete for a utility infield spot on the Twins' roster next season. The Oklahoma alum was batting only .133 when released by San Diego, but he's a .271 career hitter and has played his entire career at shortstop. Pedro Florimon is the Twins' incumbent at shortstop, after a season in which he was named the Twins' top defensive player.
A week after Joe Mauer won his fifth Silver Slugger Award as the American League's best-hitting catcher, the Twins announced Monday that it will be his last. Mauer is a catcher no more.
The six-time All-Star will become a full-time first baseman in 2014, after a foul tip ended his 2013 season six weeks early.
"It's one of the tougher decisions I've had to make, but also probably one of the easiest," Mauer said, because the symptoms of his concussion lingered into October. "I really tried to do everything I could to get back out on the field. But it wasn't safe and I wasn't able to do that."
Getting back on the field is what finally convinced the St. Paul native, who had resisted such a position switch for years. A back injury kept him out for a month in 2009, leg injuries cost him half his season in 2011, and he sat out the Twins' final 39 games this year after taking a couple of foul tips off his helmet on Aug. 19. When doctors warned him that another concussion would likely linger at least as long as this one, Mauer had heard enough.
"All it takes is one. That's one of the things I had to realize -- if I said 'no, I'm catching,' all it would take is one foul tip in batting practice and I'm out again," the three-time batting champion said. "I don't want to put myself in that position. I think it's the right decision not only for myself, but for my teammates and the organization."
It was Mauer's decision, general manager Terry Ryan said, but one the Twins -- who still owe their new first baseman $115 million over the next five years -- fully support.
"I'm happy he has chosen to make the transition, but if he decided he wanted to catch, I'm not sure anybody was going to stand in his way," Ryan said. "We had a conversation in October, just about the future. One thing that was apparent, [after] Joe was on the [disabled list] for quite some time, the important thing was his health, and it led from there. Joe did some searching, talked to some people he had a lot of confidence in, and ultimately he got back to me and said he was willing to make the move. I think it's the right decision."
Especially since the Twins have a vacancy at the position, created when Justin Morneau, whose career has been severely impacted by concussions of his own, was traded to Pittsburgh on Aug. 31. Morneau is a free agent now, and Ryan admitted that the possibility of the four-time All Star returning to Minnesota has been lessened by Mauer's decision.
There's also a chance that the Twins might sign a catcher to beef up a position the Twins haven't had to deal with in almost a decade, though Ryan sounded optimistic that the current catchers -- Ryan Doumit, Chris Herrmann, Eric Fryer and especially rookie Josmil Pinto, who batted .342 in 21 games in September -- would be able to handle the position.
Mauer emphasized that he is symptom-free now, and ready to embark on his usual winter workout schedule.
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