It was probably hard to tell after a 14-5 rout, but the addition of one player to the clubhouse, the Twins say, has energized the other 24.
“It means a lot to the guys in here,” closer Glen Perkins said Sunday of the signing of Kendrys Morales to be the Twins’ new designated hitter. “Making moves like that, taking chances on making us better, it goes a long way for giving guys confidence, and knowing we’re all on the same page.”
Morales passed a physical exam Sunday and a contract that will pay him roughly $7.5 million for the final four months of the regular season — and any postseason that the Twins might make. He will need a week, possibly two, to get ready for everyday play, but before he’s even swung a bat, the switch-hitting Cuban already has served an important purpose.
He is a symbol, the Twins hope, that their 96-losses-or-worse era is over. And that to make sure it is, they will break out of their conservative, budget-conscious ways, at least a little.
“Why not us?” General Manager Terry Ryan — back on the job after five months of cancer treatment — said of the surprising transaction. “Why not the Twins? I read there were probably a handful of clubs that were chasing Kendrys. Well, we were ahead of many of those clubs in the standings. So I don’t know why we couldn’t reach out to him and see if we could bring in a quality player.”
To bring a player in, you have to let one go, too, and Ryan did that by designating Jason Kubel for assignment. Kubel hasn’t had an extra-base hit since April, so it was clear his comeback wasn’t working out.
“Somewhere along the line, I lost it toward the end of April. Wish I knew what it was, to fix it, but it just never got better,” said Kubel, who hit 105 home runs in a Twins uniform. “It’s been like this for the last couple of years. It’s been rough.”
It wasn’t easy, either, on Ryan, who drafted Kubel in 2000. “That was a difficult meeting,” he said. “We thanked him for his contributions over the years to this organization. He was a productive player for this club for a long time.”
That’s what the Twins hope Morales, once one of the most feared hitters in the league, will be now. Morales slammed 34 homers and collected 108 RBI in 2009, finishing fifth in the MVP balloting that Joe Mauer won. He’s never reached that level since, and even sat out a season and a half after breaking his leg during a walk-off homer celebration in 2010. But he’s only 30, has hit 45 homers the past two seasons and was looking for a four-month gig to re-establish his value after his foray into the free-agent market last winter was ruined by the draft-pick compensation rules.
“He’s a run-producer, a guy who can drive them home,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s got a track record — drives in runs, can hit the ball in the seats.”
Morales said he had other options, but chose Minnesota because he “likes the ballpark, likes the atmosphere here,” he said through interpreter (and bullpen coach) Bobby Cuellar. “[I’m] here to help this team win some baseball games.”
But not for a few days. Because he’s out of options, Morales cannot be sent to the minor leagues, so he was placed on the 25-man roster and the Twins will play shorthanded until he feels ready. “So we’re stuck. It’s not ideal,” Ryan said, “but we’ll make it work. I’d like to send him down to Rochester, get him going for eight, nine, 10 games, and see what we’ve got. That’s not going to happen.”
Morales said he has been working out almost six hours a day, six days a week in Miami, taking batting practice and fielding grounders, so he shouldn’t need much time to get ready. “It may be five days, it may be 10 days, it may be seven days,” he said. “But when I’m ready, I’ll be ready.”
And maybe the Twins will be ready to charge into an AL Central race that remains a five-team jumble. The players think so.
“That’s a good signing,” Mauer said of his new teammate. “A lot of us are really excited right now.”