Morneau, Twins make one-year deal
Club may attempt to sign 2006 AL MVP to longer contract
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins and first baseman Justin Morneau were able to avoid arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $7.4 million deal early Friday morning. But the short-term contract doesn't necessarily mean an end to the club's attempts to sign Morneau to a longer deal.Morneau was one of three arbitration-eligible players who the Twins signed to one-year deals on Friday before the deadline when contract figures had to be exchanged. The Twins also agreed to terms with outfielder Jason Kubel and right-hander Juan Rincon. The Minnesota first baseman received nearly a $3 million raise from the $4.5 million he made in 2007, his first year of arbitration. Morneau, 26, hit .271 with 31 home runs and 111 RBIS last year in the follow-up to his 2006 American League MVP season. While his power numbers were nearly identical to those of '06, Morneau's average dropped 50 points from .321 to .271. Last offseason, the Twins made public their desire to sign Morneau, catcher Joe Mauer and outfielder Michael Cuddyer to long-term deals. Of the three players, only Mauer was signed beyond 2007, as he agreed to a four-year, $33 million deal. The team remained optimistic that it could work out similar multiyear contracts with the other two players this winter. And the Twins reiterated Friday that reaching a long-term deal with Morneau before the start of the season still is not out of the question. "With the numbers exchange coming today, we talked last night and we just agreed to get a one-year deal out of the way," Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said. "If either side has the appetite and wants to talk, you know we can obviously open it up and see if we can have some common ground to get a multiyear [deal] done. We would love to do that." This is often the time of the year when clubs begin to work on long-term contracts and extensions with players. Last year, discussions between the Twins and Morneau regarding a multiyear deal stretched into Spring Training before they were broken off due to disparities in the two sides. So far this offseason it appears little, if any, progress has been made toward a longer deal with Morneau. Last week, Morneau wrote in an e-mail to MLB.com that "no discussions have been had" regarding a long-term contract. Part of the hesitancy could be that the Twins are waiting until after Johan Santana is traded to open up negotiations for longer deals with both Morneau and Cuddyer. However, the club repeatedly has said it has not put other things on hold during their extensive trade talks for their ace. But even some of the players seem to be in a waiting mode to see how the Santana situation unfolds. Morneau, who is not eligible for free agency until after the 2010 season, wrote in the e-mail that he remains interested in exploring a multiyear deal. Yet he also hinted that his desire to sign a deal which extends into his first years of free agency could hinge on the direction the club is headed. "No matter what happens, I'm going to be in a Twins uniform for the next three years, unless I get traded," Morneau wrote. "I'm looking forward to playing in the new ballpark, and I'm excited for it. Hopefully we will have a winning team going into that ballpark and I will be a part of it. "But some moves they make or do not make may have some influence on a long-term deal into my first years of free agency." The one-year deal for Morneau at least ensures the two sides will not have to go through an arbitration hearing. That also is the case with both Kubel and Rincon. Kubel, who was in his first year of arbitration, agreed to a $1.3 million deal with the Twins on Thursday night. The left-handed hitter is expected to split time between the outfield and designated hitter spot in 2008. Kubel earned $387,500 last season, when he batted .273 with 13 homers and 65 RBIS in 128 games for Minnesota. Rincon saw his salary rise to $2.475 million for '08. Rincon made $2 million last year, the first time he was arbitration-eligible. He's coming off a disappointing 2007 campaign in which he posted a 5.13 ERA while going 3-3 in 63 appearances for the Twins.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.