Twins Focus On Arbitration-Eligible Players

The Twins have turned their focus to re-signing their top three arbitration-eligible players, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Michael Cuddyer. Also, the Twins seem to be ready to offer a contract extension to Joe Nathan, and Oswaldo Sosa is beginning to gain comparisons to Cy Young Winner Johan Santana. All that and more.

The Twins appear to be focusing their negotiations with arbitration-eligible players on right fielder Michael Cuddyer, who is two seasons away from becoming a free agent, before devoting full-time attention to batting champ Joe Mauer and MVP Justin Morneau.

The team is trying to sign all three to multiyear deals.

Mauer and Morneau, who will command bigger packages, are both in their first year of arbitration eligibility.

Mauer, the St. Paul, Minn., native, said he's not thinking a lot about the possibility of a big multiyear deal as opposed to playing next season on a one-year contract.

"I'm just going to keep working hard, and that will all work out," Mauer, 23, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Mauer made $400,000 last season, Morneau $385,000. With the club seeking to buy out at least one year of free agency for each of the pair, that makes each potential deal a four-year package that figures to be worth at least $10 million a year.

Mauer led the majors in batting last year at .347, becoming the first American League catcher to win a batting title and first in the majors since Ernie Lombardi in 1942.

Morneau hit .321 with 130 runs batted in -- second only to Harmon Killebrew in franchise history -- and became the first Twin since 1987 to hit 30 homers (34).

NOTES, QUOTES:

  • Despite an unproductive offseason so far, the Twins have sold more new full-season-ticket equivalents than they did the entire offseason a year ago (about 1,800 so far) and say they expect to open 2007 with more than 10,000 sold in all.

  • The Twins, who have won several awards in recent years for creative promotions, have a television ad planned that plays off White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen's "piranhas" nickname for the speedy portion of the Twins' lineup. The ad includes 3B Nick Punto and SS Jason Bartlett swimming in the piranha tank at the Mall of America aquarium (sans real piranhas). "They have so many teeth, if they're in that water, you couldn't pay me enough to do that," Punto told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

  • Former Twin IF Ron Coomer, who has a deal to return in 2007 as a part-time TV broadcaster for Cubs and White Sox games in his native Chicago, is expected to also work out a deal to return as a pregame and postgame analyst for Twins local cable broadcasts, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, including backing up TV broadcaster Bert Blyleven, the former Twins pitching great.

  • The next great Twins pitching prospect on the horizon? Could be RHP Oswaldo Sosa, a native of the same small Andes Mountain town -- Tovar, Venezuela -- from which Cy Young winner LHP Johan Santana hails. After going a combined 13-8 at Class A Fort Myers and Class A Beloit in 2006, Sosa won his first five decisions, with a 2.36 ERA, in his first 18 games with the Aragua Tigres in the highly competitive Venezuelan winter leagues.

  • Indications are that RHP Joe Nathan, the two-time all-star closer under contract through 2008, could get a contract extension this winter. Nathan, 32, is set to make $5.25 million in 2007, and the club has an option for 2008 worth $6 million.

    BY THE NUMBERS: $45.1 million -- Amount of Twins' 2007 payroll, already committed in guaranteed contracts to nine players, leaving about $20-23 million to fill the rest of the roster, including five key arbitration-eligible players: C Joe Mauer, 1B Justin Morneau, RF Michael Cuddyer, 3B Nick Punto, RHP Juan Rincon.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Hopefully I'll get in one day. Good things can come to those who wait, just like they did for Bruce (Sutter)." -- RHP Bert Blyleven, Twins broadcaster and former pitching great, on the possibility of gaining election to the Hall of Fame in 2007.