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Twins Say Cuddyer Not Gone Yet; Willingham Looms

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Michael Cuddyer and the Minnesota Twins could soon end an employment that began when they drafted him out of high school in the first round in 1997.

But general manager Terry Ryan said Wednesday the team has not ruled out re-signing the versatile veteran, amid discussions with his potential replacement, fellow free agent Josh Willingham.

Ryan said he’s spoken this week a couple of times with Cuddyer’s agent and that contract talks have not been halted.

“Nobody is backed in a corner here,” Ryan said.

Willingham played last season for the Oakland Athletics, hitting a career-high 29 home runs with a career-best 98 RBIs. He is the same age as Cuddyer at 32.

ESPN.com reported Tuesday the Twins and Willingham have agreed on a multiyear deal, citing an unidentified league source. The Star Tribune, crediting two unidentified people familiar with the negotiations, reported Tuesday the two sides were “finalizing” a three-year, $21 million deal.

Willingham’s agent, Matt Sosnick, said Wednesday he’s still in talks with the Twins but declined to comment on the reports.

Willingham is a Type A free agent, entitling the A’s to two compensatory draft picks if he signs with another club. But under Major League Baseball’s new rules, the Twins wouldn’t be forced to give one away. Cuddyer is in the same classification.

The Twins have also talked with free-agent outfielder Jason Kubel, but he’s unlikely to be brought back if Cuddyer or Willingham is signed.

Willingham started his career with the Florida Marlins and moved on to the Washington Nationals. He’s a .262 career hitter, but he’s hit 21-plus homers in four of his six full major league seasons. Willingham has played mostly left field, with a little bit of time in right.

Cuddyer’s usefulness has gone well beyond the corners of the outfield. He played first base while Justin Morneau missed big chunks of the season to different injuries and he has also played the other infield spots, including third base and second base earlier in his career. Cuddyer hit .284 with 20 home runs and 70 RBIs for the Twins last year.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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