MINNEAPOLIS -- As the Minnesota Twins introduced outfielder Josh Willingham to reporters this morning, announcing the arrival of the right-handed bat Minnesota wanted for its outfield, it became clear that he will be replacing Michael Cuddyer and not playing with him.
CBSSports.com reported this morning that Cuddyer has agreed to a three-year, $31.5 million deal with the Colorado Rockies, ending his 14-year run with the organization. The Twins still were trying to sign Cuddyer, though general manager Terry Ryan said this morning that landing Cuddyer and Willingham was "improbable, but not impossible."
In reality, adding Willingham as a free agent from Oakland pushed the Twins to the brink with Cuddyer -- or was a response to the knowledge they already were at the brink with Cuddyer. Either way, they made sure they'd have at least one right-handed power bat in their lineup next year.
"It's sensitive when you draft and sign players along the way," Ryan said. "It started to get to a point of no return, and we didn't want to be left without. It seemed to be the right decision at the time (to sign Willingham), and I suspect it's going to be a good fit. But it is sensitive (with Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, another free-agent outfielder). I think everybody agrees with that."
Willingham said he was in conversations with four teams throughout the process, and his decision came down to the Twins and Cincinnati Reds in the end; former Nationals manager Jim Riggleman, who was with Willingham in Washington and now is the Reds' Class AA manager, had told Willingham he would put in a good word with Reds executives.
Eventually, though, Willingham signed with the Twins, who expressed interest in him as soon as he became a free agent. Now he'll have to replace one of the most popular players in recent Twins history.
"It was tough for us, because we knew that Terry had a lot of loyalty to Michael," said Matt Sosnick, Willingham's agent. "He was going to give Michael every chance to come back. We had a lot of offers out there for Josh. Josh and his wife, Ginger, made it clear there was two places they would choose to go: Minnesota and Cincinnati. As it shook out, Minnesota was the more viable of the two places."
With Cuddyer apparently off the market, the Twins' primary pursuit for the rest of the offseason will be another starting pitcher so they can move Brian Duensing back to the bullpen.
Twins infielder Trevor Plouffe took to Twitter to wish Cuddyer well with the Rockies.
"@mcuddy5 you were an amazing teammate, leader, and role model," Plouffe posted on his Twitter handle, @TPlouffe24. "I appreciate all the advice you have ever given me. Best of luck in Colorado!"