FORT MYERS, Fla. – Having addressed the pitching staff through trades and free-agent signings, the Twins belatedly turned to their offense Sunday.
The wait didn’t seem to hurt their catch.
Logan Morrison, a 30-year-old first baseman who crushed 38 home runs during a career year with the Tampa Bay Rays last season, agreed to a one-year contract that guarantees him only $6.5 million, a person with knowledge of the terms said Sunday. The deal can become a two-year contract if the Twins trigger an option for 2019, but it tops out at $16.5 million regardless.
For a player whose home run total would have led the Twins last season, and ditto his .868 on-base-plus-slugging, Morrison appears to be a last-minute bargain. And his new teammates like the sound of adding another lefthanded power hitter into the middle of what was already projected to be one of the AL’s best offenses.
“I’ve heard a lot of good things about him. Obviously everybody knows he can hit. We’re excited to have anybody with that kind of power in the locker room,” Twins righthander Kyle Gibson said. “We’ve got a lot of guys in the locker room who are really good players, and it’s only making us a deeper team and a better team.”
In fact, where he fits will be an interesting question. Morrison has played the outfield, but only 14 times since 2012. He’s a first baseman who can occasionally spell Joe Mauer at the position, and he served as designated hitter 34 times in two seasons in Tampa Bay. He bats lefthanded like Mauer, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler, and has significantly less power against lefthanded pitching. He could take playing time from Robbie Grossman, who bats righthanded, and might put Kennys Vargas’ roster spot in jeopardy.
Morrison, a 22nd-round draft pick by the Marlins out of high school in Slidell, La., in 2005, is expected to report to camp Monday to undergo a physical and sign his contract. The eight-year veteran, who has played for the Marlins, Mariners and Rays, is the sixth free agent to sign a major league contract with the Twins this offseason, and first position player. Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey has also signed pitchers Michael Pineda, Fernando Rodney, Zach Duke, Addison Reed and Anibal Sanchez, none of them for longer than two years or for more than Reed’s $16.75 million guarantee.
Still, Morrison’s contract will push the Twins past their record Opening Day payroll of $113 million, set in 2011. The Twins have almost exactly that amount committed now to 18 players who have signed contracts, with a half-dozen or so minimum-salary deals awaiting that should bring the salary outlay to more than $116 million. That should rank them close to the median of major league payrolls, and is a roughly $8 million increase over 2017.
Morrison could cost them a little more, too, but the Twins would be glad to pay it. His contract includes a salary of $5.5 million for 2018, and a $1 million buyout if the Twins don’t execute their option for 2019, according to a source with knowledge of the terms. That 2019 option is worth $8 million, and automatically vests if Morrison reaches 600 plate appearances this year. In addition, the deal includes “reachable” incentives that could add $1 million each season, plus raise his salary to $9 million next year, meaning he could earn a total of $16.5 million over the two seasons.
“He’s a good player. I can’t believe it took this long for him to sign with a team, but I’m glad he’s on our side,” Reed said. “Last year, [the Twins] surprised a bunch of people, and this offseason, they did nothing but add pieces. This team got better. It’s going to be an exciting season.”
Morrison became a more exciting player last year, reportedly with the help of the analytics corps in the Rays front office. By concentrating on lifting his launch angle, he became a far more dangerous hitter, belting 24 more home runs than in 2016, and 15 more than his previous career high. He also walked 81 times, another category that would have led the Twins last season, and collected 22 doubles.
Is he a difference-maker? Gibson can’t wait to find out.
“We know that we’re ready to make the next step. … Last year showed we might have been a little bit ahead of schedule,” Gibson said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in here. Any time you add pieces like that, you’re looking for upgrades. You’re creating more competition.”