Ex-GM Smith Stays; Cuddyer Return ‘Improbable’

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Twins have traditionally been one of the most stable and loyal franchises in Major League Baseball, so the decision by former general manager Bill Smith to stay after being fired was hardly surprising.

Even the longest of tenures with the Twins, though, don’t last forever. Versatile veteran Michael Cuddyer, voted by local beat writers as the team’s most valuable player in 2011, likely won’t be re-signed now that free agent outfielder Josh Willingham is under contract for three years and $21 million.

“I think everybody knows we’re still looking for pitching as well,” general manager Terry Ryan said Friday during a conference call with reporters to introduce Willingham. Asked about the return of Cuddyer, to whom the Twins made a similar offer, Ryan said, “It’s improbable, but not impossible.”

The Twins were also interested in bringing back outfielder Jason Kubel, another homegrown player, but they chose to move on with Willingham once the 32-year-old accepted their offer to leave the Oakland Athletics and take his powerful bat to Target Field.

“Ultimately it started to get to the point of no return, and we didn’t want to be left without,” Ryan said of the delicate balance of pursuing all three players.

Smith’s situation was sensitive, too. He was dismissed last month after four seasons on the job as Ryan’s replacement, part of the fallout from the team’s 63-99 record in 2011. Ryan returned to his previous role, and after taking several weeks to regroup Smith told Twins President Dave St. Peter he was willing to serve as an assistant to St. Peter and Ryan.

Smith, who has been with the organization for more than 25 years, will work on upgrading the team’s spring training facilities in Fort Myers, Fla., assessing international player development and maintaining relationships with minor league affiliates among other projects.

“We are excited to have this opportunity to have him on board with hopes of maximizing his many talents,” St. Peter said in an e-mail.

Said Ryan: “His strengths are most of my weaknesses. … It is an excellent fit.”

That’s the way the Twins feel about Willingham, too. The Alabama native, whose statistics over the past six seasons are similar to Cuddyer’s, has primarily been a left fielder and acknowledged some discomfort about playing right field. But he said he can make it work with practice in spring training, and Ryan said the team believes he’s athletic enough with a competent throwing arm to play there.

The advantage to the Twins of putting Willingham in right is being able to use speedy Ben Revere in left and keep Denard Span in center.

Adding a powerful right-handed hitter to a lefty-heavy lineup was more important. Willingham said he had serious offers from three other teams, but he liked what he’s seen of and heard about the Twins. Last year was his first in the American League, but a career-high 29 home runs and 98 RBIs suggest he made the adjustment just fine. He said he’d like to bring his on-base percentage back up. His career mark is .361, but last year it dipped to .332.

“I think I’m at my best as an overall player offensively when I’m going deep in some counts and working some walks,” Willingham said.

He will make $7 million per season for each of the next three years. If he reaches 525 plate appearances in 2013, his 2014 salary would increase to $8 million. Last season was the only time in the last four years he’s reached that mark.

Cuddyer has topped that in each of the last three seasons, one reason why he was also named the winner of the team’s Bob Allison Award given to the player who exemplifies determination, competitive spirit and leadership. Willingham and his agent, Matt Sosnick, said they respected the strong ties Cuddyer, their first-round draft pick in 1997, had to the Twins.

“It was tough for us because we knew particularly Terry had a lot of loyalty to Michael,” Sosnick said. “He was going to give Michael every chance to come back, and that’s what the Twins did. Part of it was the fact that they set themselves up as a family. They’re very loyal to their own.”

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

  • Jim

    What a nightmare. They didn’t fire him, they demoted him, and his mentor is now the GM. Has this organization ever actually fired anyone? It’s past time for all new people in the front office.

    • mom

      I agree, my family loves the twins and will stay loyal but come on Pohlads spend the money. The people gave you a stadium now stick with your part of the deal and get players who can help you win and keep fan favorites like Cuddy. The good thing about this season is tickets should be easy to come by.

  • james2

    I am seriously doubting that I will spend a dime on the Twins this year. I don’t understand the team anymore. I could use the hundreds of dollars for something else.

    Yeah, see if I freeze in line waiting for single game tix. Doubt it.

  • hate the system

    Bill Smith looks like a monkey with down syndrome, which means he is borderline super hero.

  • Johnny Rain Cloud

    Cuddyer just signed with Colorado. This is a huge loss to the Twins and they don’t even acknowledge it. They are going to lose 100 games this season. Because they lost their most versatile player and still have no pitching!

  • Mayhem

    I see the after-glow and honeymoon period of having a new stadium and the thought of all the revenue that will fall into the Twins laps to build a championship team because of it only took two years to fade away.

    Couldnt ante up another $5 mil from the $25 mil for 3 yrs to sign pretty much the unheralded face of the franchise, huh? Pretty Pathetic. But as Bert says….”thats the Twins way….”

    Smith would have….Ryan is the Pohlads poster child of a MLB penny pincher. Bets are on to see how many games into the season Willy goes before going on the DL….with Mauer and Morneau along side him.

    Might as well move back to the dome.

  • Josh

    Cuddy is a familiar face, but he isn’t worth the amount of money he wants more than willingham. Willinham is statistically a better asset to the twins. Don’t get me wrong, cuddy is a great guy… but willingham is straight up better in the statistics that match the “twins way” Which is manufacturing runs. He has a higher RBi average per season, and he has a better OBP percentage per season. Not a freak of nature kind of good.. but better for the bucks.

  • Murph

    Smith and the Twins hopefully will break their recent and idiotic habit of keeping rafts underperforming retreads clogging their AAA ranks far beyond reason.All it does is keep their “up an comings” in a state of mind as” stuck and fumings”! They have developed a habit of making minor league players run a gauntlet rather than a race to the top! It is a glaring hole in their plan of resurgeance!It has to be plugged by Sano,Rosario,Gonzales,Arcia, and one very specially shortstop candidate and some live arms that need a vertical ladder instead of a long sloping incline.Not that Parmalee and others aren’t almost there,in fact he and others not mentioned ahve also put in their time and put up some numbers.Let’s just hope they get off the ‘old guy” kick and instead let the kids sprint to the top if the keep deserving it as they did last year and hopefully even more this year when we most need them to!

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