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Updated: December 16th, 2011 9:35am
Negotiations with Willingham were 'sensitive,' Terry Ryan says

Negotiations with Willingham were 'sensitive,' Terry Ryan says

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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The Minnesota Twins held a conference call Friday morning with new outfielder Josh Willingham, his agent Matt Sosnick, general manager Terry Ryan and manager Ron Gardenhire.

Here are the highlights:

- When asked how likely it was that the Twins will still sign Michael Cuddyer, Ryan said, "It's improbable, but not impossible," and cited the team's need for pitching. The payroll currently sits around $95-96 million, and the Twins would prefer to keep it around $100 million.

- Ryan also addressed the delicacy of dealing with Cuddyer, who has been in the organization since 1997, as well as long-time Twin Jason Kubel, while also trying to improve a roster that lost 99 games.

"It's sensitive," Ryan said. "When you draft and sign players along the way, there's no secret that we try to retain players here. And ultimately it got to a point of no return. We didn't want to be left without, and consequently this seems to be a decision that's the right decision at the time. And I suspect it is going to be a good fit through the next three years.... Players have decision to make, and clubs have decision to make, and we ultimately made one here."

- Sosnick said Willingham had narrowed his choices down to two teams -- the Twins and the Cincinnati Reds. "W had a lot of offers out there for Josh," Sosnick said. "Once it shook out, Minnesota was really the more viable of the two places. It was frustrating waiting, but it was a re-affirmation of how the Twins treat their own, and how Terry (Ryan) and Rob (Antony, assistant GM) and Mike (Radcliff, VP of player personnel) really feel personally about the organization."

Sosnick also represents catcher Ryan Doumit, who signed with the Twins in November.

"This is part of the reason why Doumit and Josh signed with the Twins, is that there's no organization in baseball that sets itself up more as a family than Minnesota."

- Willingham has played mostly left field throughout his career, but Ryan said he's "athletic enough" and has an "adequate arm" to play right field.

Willingham said his "comfort level is not great right now" in right field, but he embraces the move and said "with some reps in spring training and some extra work, I can probably feel right at home out there. I'm not really worried about playing right field that much, because I know I'll get a lot of work."

Asked if he could also play some first base, Willingham said, "I don't think that would be a problem either."

- Willingham's strikeout rate jumped from 18.8% to 26.6%, but he did hit 29 home runs while playing in Oakland's pitcher-friendly park. Throughout his career Willingham has been a patient hitter, with a 11.3% career walk rate.

"I think I'm at my best as an overall player when I'm going deep into some counts and working some walks, and seeing a lot of pitches," he said. "I got away from that a little bit last year.... I really don't know what caused that. I'm not really going to complain about it either, because I feel like I had a good year."

Willingham added that he was disappointed with his .246 batting average in 2011, "but other than that, that's about it."

- Why did he ultimately choose the Twins?

"The Twins expressed interest from the time they could have," Willingham said. "I felt wanted there. ... I'm a big family-oriented person, and location was big. It's a lot closer to home, it's in the same time zone if you will. So that was a key. And feeling wanted was a key, and I felt like the Twins really wanted me. ...

"I know and respect Michael Cuddyer as a competitor, playing against him... But that's not something I thought about when I was making my decision."

- How will Willingham's power play inside Target Field?

"I don't think there's any ballpark that Josh can't hit balls out of," Ryan said. "He's got power, and he's got leverage in his swing. ...

"We think he's a smart hitter."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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