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Updated: June 8th, 2014 2:26pm
Zulgad: Twins GM makes move to keep team relevant by signing Morales

Zulgad: Twins GM makes move to keep team relevant by signing Morales

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- "Why not us?"

That was the response from Twins general manager Terry Ryan on Sunday when informed the decision to sign free-agent Kendrys Morales to a one-year, $7.6 million deal was, well, very un-Twins like.

Whether this move works, Ryan's words were refreshing to hear. After three brutal seasons, the Twins made an in-season move that indicates they really believe there might be reason for optimism. This wasn't lip service, it was real action. This also should put a temporary halt to the easy and lazy argument that the Pohlad family is cheap and that's the reason for all of the Twins' problems.

The Twins entered Sunday tied with the Kansas City Royals for last place in the AL Central but only five games behind first-place Detroit. Minnesota and Kansas City are 2.5 games back in the wild card.

"We certainly are in the mix," Ryan said during a press conference at Target Field to introduce Morales. " ... We played pretty decent to this point. I think surprised some people. We've had a couple of people like (Josmil) Pinto and (Danny) Santana, for instance, come in and give us a little spark. Why not us? We're at a point in the season where there's a lot of baseball left. Why not the Twins?

"I've read there were probably a handful of clubs that were chasing Kendrys. We were ahead of many of those clubs in the standings. I don't know why we couldn't reach out to him and see if we could bring in a quality player. It didn't cost us a draft choice, which we treasure here." (Once last week's draft was past, Morales was able to be signed without draft pick compensation.)

This is the point at which I must tap the brakes on Morales mania.

There is no downside to bringing in a switch-hitting designated hitter and occasional first baseman who has a career batting line of .280/.333/.480 with 102 home runs and 165 runs batted in in 620 games.

Morales made it clear to Ryan that he enjoys hitting in Target Field - insert your own joke about the fact he got to face Twins pitching as a member of the Angels and Mariners - and isn't afraid the ballpark will rob him of home runs.

That's all good but the reality is that Morales has gone more than eight months without playing in a big-league game. And the Twins don't have the option of sending him to Triple-A Rochester to get some at-bats.

Morales is out of options, and he isn't injured, so he will sit on the bench and inform the Twins when he's ready to play. Morales, who will turn 31 on June 20, admitted that could be anywhere from five to 10 days or perhaps longer.

That's the short-term bad news, especially since Morales will be rusty when he does start playing.

The good news is that there is no way that Morales won't be an upgrade, and probably a significant one, on outfielder/DH Jason Kubel. The veteran was designated for assignment by the Twins to make room for Morales after hitting .224/.313/.295 with one home run and 13 RBI.

The Twins aren't only sending a message to their fan base - one that could be tempted to check out completely once the All-Star Game leaves Target Field - but they also sent an important message in the clubhouse.

Kubel might have been the best guy on the face of the earth, but he also had to be surrounded by many teammates who wondered what he was doing to justify having a big-league job.

There are other players who remain in that clubhouse who had to take notice of the Morales for Kubel swap. This includes righthander starter Kevin Correia, who is 2-7 with a 6.11 ERA, and reliever Jared Burton, who has a 6.20 ERA in 26 games.

Ryan attempted to downplay the lack of job security for others.

"No one is on the clock," he said. "Some guys are going to struggle and all of a sudden they spin one up there and you say, 'OK, you can build on that.' Veteran pitchers specifically have a knack of being able to figure it out. But the roster is fluid. You can always do things with your roster."

Ryan didn't need to say that Correia and Burton better turn it around or else. Signing Morales, and then making it clear he feels that on June 8 his team has a chance to remain competitive, sent the strongest message possible.

If you don't perform, the odds are growing stronger that you will be replaced. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Jared Burton, Jason Kubel
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