Josh Willingham was claimed off trade waivers by at least one other team, a major-league source told the Star Tribune on Wednesday, giving the Twins until noon Friday to work out a trade or pull him back.
The source did not reveal which team has been awarded the waiver claim, but only one team has the right to negotiate a trade for the 34-year-old slugger. If more than one team claimed Willingham, the American League team with the worst record on Monday, when he was placed on waivers, would be given the claim; if no A.L. team claimed him, then N.L. teams, again in reverse order of standings, would be granted the claim.
Unlike Justin Morneau, who went unclaimed two weeks ago and can be traded to any team, the Twins have only three options now for Willingham: work out a trade with the team awarded Willingham's claim, presumably for a minor-league prospect; pull him back from waivers, and keep him for the rest of the season; or simply allow the claiming team to take Willingham and his contract, an unlikely scenario. Willingham earns $7 million for this season, roughly $1.1 million of which will still be due in September, and is owed another $7 million for next season, the last under the three-year contract he signed with the Twins in December 2011.
Willingham's salary will be increased by $1 million next year if he reaches 525 plate appearances this season. He had batted 378 times through Tuesday's game.
A knee injury has hampered Willingham this season, and he underwent surgery in July. He's batting a career-low .215 with just 12 home runs and 45 RBIs, a year after racking up 35 homers and 110 RBIs in his first season with the Twins.
But manager Ron Gardenhire endorsed Willingham on Tuesday, saying he understood why a contending team would want to add his cleanup hitter. "If you're looking for a right-handed bat that can hit the ball in the seats, Willingham would definitely be one of those guys," Gardenhire said. "He's definitely the top of player [contenders] are looking for. Even though he's not swinging great now, who knows? You put him in a different atmosphere, he may take off. And that's what everybody's looking for -- something to get them over the top."
Willingham, though, said he isn't looking to be traded this week, ahead of the Sept. 1 deadline to be eligible for postseason play. "I'm comfortable here," Willingham said. "To be honest, [being on waivers] isn't going to affect me one way or the other. Right now, it's no big deal." He said Wednesday he wasn't aware that he had been claimed.
UPDATE: Gardenhire was on the field early this afternoon with his infielders, hitting them ground balls. It wasn't punishment, he said, just an effort to stay sharp because he had cancelled batting practice for a second straight day due to the heat. But it's overcast at the ballpark and the humidity has declined, so Gardenhire changed his mind about batting practice. The Twins hit on the field for about 25 minutes, roughly half the normal length, then retreated back into their air conditioning.
Joe Mauer is here at the park again, and was meeting with general manager Terry Ryan. No update on his condition yet, though Justin Morneau said he is feeling better.
Here are tonight's lineups, with Willingham in the cleanup spot as we wait to see if he'll finish the season here. Andrew Albers is on the mound for the Twins, facing the team he blanked for 8 1/3 innings in his major-league debut earlier this month.