MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins are sending a message. They’re not just building for the future — they’re trying to win in 2014, too.
That message was pounded home Sunday when the Twins announced the signing of veteran free agent Kendrys Morales, a designated hitter/first baseman who went the first two months of the season without signing with a team. Minnesota, needing another bat in its lineup, inked Morales to a one-year contract that will pay him approximately $7.5 million — the prorated amount of a $12 million season-long salary.
When Morales signed with the Twins on Sunday, Minnesota was 29-31 and just two-and a half games out of a wild card spot. While the signing of one player doesn’t necessarily push the Twins over the top, it shows that Minnesota’s front office is serious about winning this season.
"We certainly are in the mix," said Twins general manager Terry Ryan. "We’ve played pretty decent here to this point. I think we’ve surprised some people. . . . Why not us? We’re at a point in the season where there’s a lot of baseball left. Why not the Twins?"
When the Twins started talking with Morales’ agent, Scott Boras, last week, Minnesota’s offense was struggling. With Morales still unsigned, the Twins reached out about potentially adding his bat to their lineup. Morales hit 23 homers and drove in 80 runs last season for Seattle, his seventh season in the majors.
Given that Morales hasn’t played in a game since the end of last season, it remains to be seen when he’ll be ready to jump into Minnesota’s lineup. But he was added to the Twins’ 25-man roster on Sunday since he’s out of minor league options. To make room for Morales, Minnesota designated outfielder Jason Kubel for release or assignment.
Morales had been working out six days a week in Miami, waiting for a team to call him. When that finally happened with the Twins this weekend, Morales was happy to be joining a team that has a chance to surprise some people.
"I’m here to come here and help this team win some baseball games," Morales said via translator Bobby Cuellar, the Twins’ bullpen coach. "I’ve always liked coming here. This is a beautiful city. I like the ballpark. I like the atmosphere here."
Since winning the American League Central in 2010, Minnesota has endured three straight seasons of 96 or more losses — making the 2014 campaign a breath of fresh air despite playing .500 baseball all year. Even in seasons when the Twins were winning, though, this type of mid-season acquisition wasn’t common.
Those inside Minnesota’s clubhouse believe Morales can be an asset to the lineup. His addition is viewed as a showing of good faith by the front office.
"It’s exciting, because the last few years, even last year, our record was similar but the results last year didn’t match the process," said Twins closer Glen Perkins. "The results are matching the process a little more this year. If anything, I think we could be a little better than we are. . . . I think (the signing is) something that is going to make guys want to go out and keep at it, because the front office has belief in us. They believe in us, and that goes a long way for the morale in the clubhouse."
Morales will likely be a full-time designated hitter with the occasional game at first base as Joe Mauer’s backup. He may need several days before manager Ron Gardenhire can insert him into the lineup as Morales knocks the rust off.
In his introductory press conference Sunday, Morales said it was difficult to sit at home and watch baseball while he remained unsigned.
"It wasn’t easy for a baseball player to watch baseball games and know I can play," said the Cuban-born Morales. "But you’ve got to be mentally tough and be prepared so when this option does come that you’re ready to do what you’ve got to do."
Twins fans had to suffer through three losing seasons after nearly a decade of winning. Minnesota has seemingly started to turn a corner in 2014, though the climb back from a 96-loss season often takes more than one year.
The Twins are hoping Morales can be a piece this team needs to continue making strides forward. Regardless of what type of numbers Morales puts up, Ryan and the front office are saying a lot by going out and signing him at this point in the season.
"That’s a spinoff of any signing or any acquisition that we’ve got some confidence in this club," Ryan said. "They can do some things."