FORT MYERS, FLA.– Bat in his hand, smile on his face. That's how Paul Molitor will remember Kennys Vargas, who spent nearly a decade in the Twins organization before being designated for assignment on Friday.
"I've always enjoyed what Kennys brings," Molitor said after giving Vargas the news. "I can't begin to imagine all the swings that man has taken, because he loves to hit. He probably hits four times a day."
He'll almost certainly do it elsewhere now. When the Twins negotiated a trade with the Yankees — Class AAA outfielder Jake Cave will report to camp Saturday, having been acquired in exchange for teenage Dominican righthander Luis Gil — they needed a roster spot for Cave, and Vargas, whose playing time was endangered even before the Twins signed Logan Morrison earlier this month, was deemed expendable.
The Twins have a week to work out a trade for Vargas, release him or send him to the minor leagues, though Vargas can refuse the assignment and become a free agent. Even Molitor seemed to think that might be best for the slugging first baseman, who hit 35 home runs, including some of the longest blasts in Target Field history, in parts of four seasons with the Twins.
"It was becoming less and less likely that we were going to be able to find a spot," Molitor said. "He took it well, and maybe in some ways is as excited about getting out from under a couple guys that he has in front of him here."
The roster crunch that cost Vargas his job was triggered by a similar one with the Yankees, who took Cave's spot in order to sign free agent Neil Walker. That was good news for the Twins, who first became interested in the 25-year-old outfielder while negotiating the Jaime Garcia trade last July.
"We knew he had a little bit of a breakout offensively," said Derek Falvey, Twins chief baseball officer. "We think he's a guy who right now can be at the major league level or provide us depth at Triple-A."
He'll get a chance to prove it right away; Molitor said he hopes to play Cave on Saturday. Only nine days remain in training camp, and Cave is suddenly competing with Zack Granite, Robbie Grossman and Ryan LaMarre for bench spots.
Cave, a sixth-round pick in the 2011 draft, has yet to reach the majors but was rated as the Yankees' 27th-best prospect by mlb.com. He hit 20 home runs in 103 games at Class AA and AAA last season, posting a .542 slugging percentage. "The power side of his game began to emerge a little bit last year," Molitor said, "and we're hoping that's something that we can keep on track."
Gil is a hard-throwing 19-year-old righthander who has yet to play professionally outside the Dominican Republic. He had shoulder surgery and missed the 2016 season but rebounded to post a 2.59 ERA in 14 Dominican rookie-level games last year.
Miguel Sano was scratched from Friday's lineup after reporting soreness in his right knee, bruised while sliding into second base on a double Wednesday. But Sano worked out and felt better; he'll be in the lineup Saturday.
The Twins have an 8 a.m. bus ride to Bradenton to take on the Pirates. Phil Hughes gets the start.