The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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June 8, 2014

Thoma column: Twins keep options open with Morales signing

Buyer or seller? Contender or pretender?

The signing this weekend of free-agent slugger Kendrys Morales suggests that the Twins view themselves as a contender.

Maybe. Even after the departure of Jason Kubel (designated for assignment Sunday to make room for Morales), there remains serious deadwood on the roster, most prominently Kevin Correia.

And Morales does nothing to fix the outfield defense issues or the hole that is center field. Aaron Hicks and Danny Santana are athletes. But Hicks hasn't hit, and Santana is not a center fielder.

True, the Twins are just a handful of games behind the favored Detroit Tigers. Also true: They are still a sub-.500 team. They are still sitting behind everybody else in the AL Central.

Morales, once he's deemed ready to play, figures to provide punch to a lineup that sorely needs punch. The 30-year-old Cuban switch-hitter has a career slugging percentage of .480, and that's not a figure generated in a bandbox. Seattle and Anaheim, his previous home parks, are no easier for power hitters than Target Field.

Morales' arrival is not all positive. He plays only first base, and that poorly. He's not taking first base from Joe Mauer. The Twins have studiously avoided having a regular designated hitter for more than a decade, preferring to use the role as a way to give regulars a partial day off and to ease dinged-up players back into the lineup. Morales closes that option. He makes it more difficult to get Josmil Pinto at-bats, more difficult to ease the burden on Josh Willingham or Oswaldo Arcia or Trevor Plouffe with a DH day.

And Morales hasn't been quite as good a hitter since his return from the broken ankle that stole a season and a half from his career.

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