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.
FORT MYERS, FLA. -- Justin Morneau made the rounds of the clubhouse as his teammates filed in from their morning workout on Friday, shaking hands with those he knew and introducing himself to a handful that he didn't.
He was saying hello. He knows he could be saying goodbye to them later this year.
Morneau said there will be no attempt to extend his contract this spring, and he doesn't plan to bring it up once the regular season starts, either. That means he will be a free agent this fall, once he earns the final $14 million of his six-year, $84 million contract -- and a possible trade candidate all summer.
"It'll take care of itself. If I get through the year healthy, we'll see what happens then," Morneau said on the eve of the Twins' first full-squad workout. "I think from their side and my side, (we both) want to see where I'm at."
Where he's at in July may be on a completely different team, and Morneau acknowledged the possibility of a trade. His preference remains Minnesota, he said, but he repeated more than once that he wants to play for a winning team -- something that may be a challenge for a Twins team that lost 96 games last season and then traded away a couple of starting outfielders.
"I want to win, obviously, so that's the important thing," said Morneau, who will turn 32 in May. "If it looks like there's a chance we're going to win, I'd love to stay here. I've been here my whole career, and this is where I hope to be in the future ... But sometimes those decisions aren't yours."
Morneau's presence, and the arrival of Pedro Florimon, Josh Willingham and Eduardo Escobar last night, means the Twins are nearly whole as they open camp on Saturday. Minor-league third baseman Deibinson Romero has been delayed by a visa snag in the Dominican Republic, and newly acquired relief pitcher Rafael Perez, who signed a minor-league contract on Thursday, will report Saturday.
La Velle Neal III and I will have much more on Morneau and Twins' training camp in Saturday's Star Tribune.
The Twins added two former first-round draft picks to their 40-man roster Tuesday, in Kyle Gibson and Aaron Hicks, with plans to bring each to spring training next year.
Tuesday was the deadline for teams to add players to the 40-man, protecting those eligible from the Dec. 6 Rule 5 draft. Beyond Gibson and Hicks, the Twins added six others: catcher Josmil Pinto, shortstop Daniel Santana, starting pitcher B.J. Hermsen and relievers Michael Tonkin, Caleb Thielbar and Tim Wood.
The 40-man roster is now full.
Gibson, 25, the No. 22 overall pick in the 2009 draft, will be competing for a spot in the Opening Day rotation. He had Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery on his right elbow Sept. 7, 2011, but proved he was healthy by going 3-2 with a 5.40 ERA in the Arizona Fall League.
Hicks, 23, was the No. 14 overall pick in the 2008 draft. He probably won’t start next April with the big league club, but he’ll be a prime candidate for a mid-season promotion. He’s a well-polished center fielder and a switch-hitter, who batted .286 with 13 home runs, 32 stolen bases and an .844 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage) last year at Class AA New Britain.
Santana, 22, batted .286 with eight home runs, 17 stolen bases and a .739 OPS at Class A Fort Myers.
Pinto, 23, batted .295 with 14 home runs and an .844 OPS in 105 games between Class A and Class AA.
Hermsen, 22, the team’s minor-league pitcher of the year, opened the season at Fort Myers and wound up going 11-6 with a 3.22 ERA in 22 starts for Class AA New Britain.
Tonkin, 23, who is the brother-in-law of former Twins outfielder Jason Kubel, racked up 97 strikeouts this year in 69 1/3 innings between Class A Beloit and Class A Fort Myers.
Thielbar, 25, a lefthander who pitched for the St. Paul Saints in 2011, climbed quickly through the Twins minor-league system this year and posted a 3.57 ERA in 25 appearances for Class AAA Rochester.
Wood, 30, who signed a minor-league deal with the Twins earlier this month, posted a 2.19 ERA with 21 saves for Class AAA Indianapolis (Pirates).
MINOR LEAGUE SIGNEES
The Twins also announced 10 players who’ve been signed to minor-league deals with invitations to big league camp: pitchers Samuel Deduno, Shairon Martis, Luis Perdomo, Esmerling Vasquez and P.J. Walters; outfielders Brian Dinkleman and Wilkin Ramirez; infielders James Beresford and Deibinson Romero and catcher Eric Fryer.
Twins left fielder Josh Willingham won his first career Silver Slugger Award on Thursday, an honor that goes to the best offensive players at each position.
Managers and coaches voted Willingham, Josh Hamilton and Mike Trout as the three top offensive performers among American League outfielders. In his first year with the Twins, Willingham batted .260 with 35 home runs, 110 RBI and an .890 OPS (on-base-plus slugging percentage).
Other AL Silver Slugger Awards went to A.J. Pierzynski (catcher), Prince Fielder (first base), Robinson Cano (second base), Miguel Cabrera (third base), Derek Jeter (shortstop) and Billy Butler (DH).
Friday has been a busy day on the waiver wire for the Twins.
The Orioles claimed infielder Alexi Casilla, and the Twins claimed two players from the Rockies -- reliever Josh Roenicke and shortstop Tommy Field. Also, the Twins took starting pitcher Samuel Deduno off their 40-man roster and assigned him to Class AAA Rochester.
Deduno has the right to accept that assignment or become a free agent. Deduno went 6-5 with a 4.44 ERA in 15 starts this year, so the move was a little surprising.
Update: I spoke to Deduno's agent, Paul Kinzer, who said Deduno is weighing his options right now but probably will re-sign with the Twins on a minor-league deal.
The Twins were expected to non-tender Casilla this offseason rather than give him another raise from his $1.38 million salary through arbitration. He batted .250 with a .305 on-base percentage in seven years with the Twins, though he will always be remembered for delivering the game-winning hit in their Game 163 victory over the Tigers in 2009.
Casilla, 28, became expendable when the Twins traded Francisco Liriano to the White Sox in a deal that brought utility infielder Eduardo Escobar. Jamey Carroll also can play multiple infield positions, and the Twins have two young shortstops they like in Pedro Florimon and Brian Dozier.
Now, Field has been added to the mix. The 25-year-old played two games for the Rockies this year and batted .246 with a .715 OPS last year at Class AAA Colorado Springs.
Roenicke, 30, the son of former Orioles outfielder Gary Roenicke and nephew of Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, posted a 3.25 ERA in 63 appearances for the Rockies last year. He had 54 strikeouts and 43 walks in 88 2/3 innings and his fastball averaged 92.3 mph, according to Fangraphs.com.
Update: It doesn't sound like the Twins will re-sign Scott Baker before the free agent market opens at 11 p.m. At that point, other teams will be able to bid. At this point, Baker might need to see what offers are out there before deciding if it's best to remain in Minnesota or move on.
The Twins announced their 2012 Diamond Award winners today, as voted on by local members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Team MVP: Josh Willingham
Pitcher of the year: Scott Diamond
Rookie of the year: Scott Diamond
Most improved: Ben Revere
Determination and leadership: Justin Morneau
Media good guy: Glen Perkins
Defensive player of the year: Ben Revere
Upper Midwest player of the year: Joe Mauer
The annual Diamond Awards dinner, with proceeds benefiting neurological research at the University of Minnesota, will be held Jan. 24 at Target Field.
With the regular season winding down, and Miguel Cabrera closing in on baseball’s first Triple Crown in 45 years, I saw Tony Oliva at Target Field and asked the Twins legend what he remembers about that magical season for Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
“Forget about ‘67,” Oliva said, with a chuckle. “What about ‘66?”
“I don’t want to hear about ‘67,” Oliva said. “I put that out of my brain when we lost. We went to Boston to win one game, and we lost both.”
Yes, this was Boston’s Impossible Dream. One of the most famous pennant races in baseball history. Four teams slugging it out through the late summer -- Twins, Red Sox, Tigers and White Sox. The Twins entered a season-ending two-game series at Fenway Park, needing just one win, but Yastrzemski helped give Boston a sweep and the American League pennant.
Yastrzemski batted .326 with 44 home runs and 121 RBI. Harmon Killebrew also hit 44 home runs, but Yaz still gets credit for the Triple Crown.
“I think that was one of those dream years, when everything went perfect,” Oliva said.
But what about ‘66? Baseball had a Triple Crown winner that year, too, when Baltimore’s Frank Robinson batted .316 with 49 and 122 RBI.
Robinson ran away with the home run title (Killebrew was second with 39) and RBI title (Killebrew was second with 110). The biggest obstacle between Robinson and the Triple Crown was Tony O., who was a two-time reigning AL batting champ after batting .323 as a rookie in ‘64 and .321 in helping the Twins win the pennant in ‘65.
A check on Baseball-Reference.com, shows that Oliva went 4-for-4 on Sept. 11, in an 11-6 win over Robinson’s Orioles at Met Stadium. Oliva was batting .320, and Robinson was at .313 with three weeks remaining.
Oliva, now 74, said he got into a fender bender and suffered whiplash sometime right around then. Though he didn’t miss a game, his success waned. He finished the year batting .307 and tipped his hat to Robinson, the league’s MVP.
“Cabrera reminds me of Frank Robinson because Robinson was a righthanded hitter, and if you pitched him away, he could hit it out of the ballpark to right field,” Oliva said. “Cabrera is a dangerous hitter like that because you can’t pitch him inside or outside.”
No doubt, and looking back, you realize that facing Tony O. was no picnic for an opposing pitcher, either.
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