The Minnesota Twins finally made a big move. After sitting idle for more than four months following a season in which they lost to the White Sox in a one-game playoff for the AL Central title, the Twins agreed to terms with free-agent third baseman Joe Crede on a one-year deal on Saturday.
Provided Crede's back holds up, he will fill a major need for the Twins as a power-hitting third baseman who also has a great glove.
The 30-year-old Crede has had two major back surgeries in the last two seasons. He hit .248 with 17 homers and 55 RBIs last season for the White Sox. But the All-Star played sparingly in the second half because of recurring back trouble, which limited him to 47 games in 2007.
"We've been looking for a corner guy. You always look to upgrade, see if you can get an impact player," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I mean, we went into the spring looking for one and this is the guy. This is the guy that we talked about way, way back. This guy, if he's healthy, can do a lot of damage."
The Twins entered this spring having not made a single significant move to improve a team that lost to Crede's White Sox 1-0 in a one-game playoff for the division title.
General manager Bill Smith and assistant GM Rob Antony negotiated off and on with Crede's agent, Scott Boras, for more than two months without reaching a deal.
"We've been thinking about this guy for a while, never knowing whether it was going to work out or not. But it finally has," Gardenhire said. "When his name was out there recommended, I said yeah, I would love to have this guy. Absolutely."
When the Twins reported to Fort Myers this week, it appeared the team would stick to a plan of using Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher in a platoon at third base. Those two combined to hit .274 with 11 home runs and 96 RBIs last season, with Harris also getting time at shortstop and second base.
"Solidifying a position with one guy that's going to be your everyday guy is not a bad thing. We were set to go into the season with a platoon, which doesn't bother me, either," Gardenhire said. "But if you can put a guy up there that has the capabilities of a Gold Glove and also a 25-30 home run guy, you have to take a chance."
First baseman Justin Morneau praised Harris and Buscher.
"Those guys work hard. They bust their tails," he said. "They both were down here early working. At the same time, if it's a move that can help our team and we can add a little more power in there and a guy who is a Gold Glover, our left side of the infield will be as good as there is."
With lefties Joe Mauer, Morneau and Jason Kubel in the middle of the lineup, the Twins have been desperate to find a righty with power to fit in between them, even more so since Torii Hunter departed in free agency before last season.
They traded prized pitching prospect Matt Garza to Tampa Bay as part of a package for outfielder Delmon Young, who hit 10 homers in his first season in Minnesota.
Crede topped 20 homers in three straight years, including a career-high 30 in 2006, before back problems held him to 144 games total in the last two seasons.
"We've seen him do some damage over the years against us and hopefully that translates the same way when he's on our side," Morneau said.
He hit 16 home runs in the first half of last season and earned an All-Star bid, including batting .432 with seven homers and 17 RBIs in 10 games against Minnesota. But he managed just one homer after the break when his back injury flared up.
Crede worked out for scouts, including representatives from the Twins, earlier this winter in hopes of showing teams that his injury was healed and he was ready to play.
The San Francisco Giants also showed interest in Crede, but as camps opened in Florida and Arizona this week, he was still without a job.
After hitting a wall in negotiations that led many to believe the Twins would stick with Harris and Buscher, the team ramped up talks again with Boras on Friday night. By Saturday, a deal had been reached.
Crede had spent his entire career with the White Sox organization, ever since he was a fifth-round pick in 1996. Now he's a member of Chicago's division rival.
"It's nice for him to play, obviously don't want to face him all the time," White Sox ace Mark Buehrle said. "I think it's going to be tough playing 80 games on turf. I don't how that's going to hold up on his back. Obviously we'll see. Hopefully he's going to be healthy all year. Hopefully he doesn't help them out too much."
Crede was a key player when Chicago won the World Series in 2005, hitting four homers and driving in 11 in the postseason while playing his usual stellar defense.
AP Sports Writer Rick Gano in Glendale, Ariz., contributed to this story.
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