MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — After joining Cleveland for the final month, Jason Kubel found himself in a familiar place in Minnesota when the Indians finished the regular season.
During that series with the Twins, Kubel stopped in the home clubhouse to see some of his old teammates and coaches. Manager Ron Gardenhire got to the point.
“I said, ‘Why aren’t you in this clubhouse?'” Gardenhire recalled. “He said, ‘Well, let’s talk over the winter.’ And we talked.”
Less than three months later, Kubel signed with the Twins. He’ll be at spring training next month on a minor league contract, but if he is added to the 40-man roster he would receive a $2 million base salary. There are bonuses built in, too: $150,000 each for 300 and 350 plate appearances and $200,000 for 400 plate appearances; and $150,000 each for 30 and 60 days on the active major league roster, excluding time on the disabled list, and $200,000 for 90 days on the active major league roster.
That’s an extra $1 million waiting for him if he’s healthy and productive enough to re-establish himself as an everyday player.
“The guy can put some swings on the ball and put it in the seats. He can carry a ballclub,” Gardenhire said. “I’m not saying he’s here to do that, but I think he’s going to be very valuable for us if he comes and proves that in spring training that he’s still good and healthy.”
Kubel isn’t the only former Twins standout who’s back for a second time. Shortstop Jason Bartlett was signed to a minor league deal and will be in camp vying for a spot. General manager Terry Ryan also confirmed over the weekend the team has maintained interest in two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, who is recovering from a second surgery on the left shoulder that kept him out of the 2011 and 2013 seasons. Santana probably won’t be ready to pitch until the summer, and he’d surely have other teams to pick from.
But the theme the Twins are following is clear: leadership ability and winning experience, two important traits they’ve largely lacked the last three years while losing at least 96 games each time. Bartlett and Kubel are past their prime, a decline accelerated by injuries, but if they’re healthy they could help enhance the roster.
Pedro Florimon is a slick fielder, but even for a shortstop a .278 career on-base percentage won’t cut it for long. If the 27-year-old wins the job again, Bartlett could still be in line for a utility spot, competing with Eduardo Escobar.
“I feel like a rookie again,” Bartlett said over the weekend at the team’s annual fan festival, held at Target Field for the first time.
Bartlett was traded to Tampa Bay before the 2008 season. He went to the World Series that fall and had a career year in 2009. But his production sharply decreased in 2010, and he was traded to San Diego. Limited by a sprained right knee in 2012, Bartlett was released that summer batting just .133. He didn’t play at all in 2013, and he thought his career could be over.
He had surgery to fix the knee, though, and the 34-year-old said he’s been working out pain-free since. Before choosing the Twins, however, he had to talk to the boss.
“He was concerned about if he had a chance to make the club, and I said, ‘Absolutely. You come into my spring training and you prove you’re healthy, I know you’re a winner. I know you know how to play,'” Gardenhire said.
Kubel signed shortly after Bartlett.
“Jason Tyner called me and said, ‘What’s going on? Is this an old-timer’s game? Do I need to pack my bag or what?'” Bartlett said. “That was funny. We have good memories here.”
Including, of course, the 2006 season when the Twins went 96-66, one game behind the New York Mets and Yankees for the best record in baseball.
“We both have been on this team when we were doing well,” said Kubel, who also spent time at TwinsFest. “They kind of wanted to bring that attitude back. They’ve got the right guys to do that with.”
Kubel signed with Arizona for two years and $15 million prior to the 2012 season, but last year he was bothered by knee and quadriceps trouble on his left leg and stumbled to career lows in every significant statistical category. He was designated for assignment and then traded to Cleveland. Just two years ago, though, he hit 30 homers and drove in 90 runs for the Diamondbacks. There are openings in the outfield for him to fill.
“It just didn’t work out last year,” he said. “Healthy now. No issues. … I’m just really excited to get started.”
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