Twins give Batista one-year deal

Batista returns to bigs for deal with Twins

MINNEAPOLIS - The Twins are bringing Tony Batista back to the States.

After searching for a third baseman since the season ended back in October, the Twins finally found their man. The club signed Batista to a one-year deal on Thursday, though the terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Batista, a veteran of nine Major League seasons, spent 2005 with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the Japanese Pacific League. While in Japan, he batted .263 with 27 home runs, 90 RBIs and 78 runs scored in 135 games. Batista was released by the Hawks on Dec. 2 after playing only one season of a two-year, $15 million dollar contract.

The signing was a surprise move to many that had been following the Twins search. Such big names as Nomar Garciaparra, Bill Mueller and Hank Blalock had been thrown in the mix of possible free agents or trade possibilities, but not once was the prospect of Batista brought up. The reason for that was pretty simple according to Twins general manager Terry Ryan.

"You didn't hear his name at all in the process because until 10 days ago, he wasn't available to us," Ryan said. "But he's a third baseman with a right handed bat that can also drive the ball over the fence. He's a good fit for what we have been trying to accomplish."

Trying to fill the opening at third base wasn't an easy task for the Twins this season. In a lean year for the free agent market, prices were soaring higher than Minnesota was going to be able to pay. Battling a low payroll is a constant problem for the club, which is just one reason why this signing seemed so huge to manager Ron Gardenhire.

"There's a lot of money being thrown around out there and it's hard to get in the market and sign free agents," Gardenhire said. "We're lucky on this one. We think we've got a pretty good player here that is going to help us do some damage this year."

What the Twins hope Batista can do is help the club score more runs. If Batista can put up similar numbers to the ones he did last season it Japan, it would add a boost to an offense that struggled to put runs together in '05. The 32-year-old ranked third in the Pacific League last season in hits and doubles, was fifth in RBIs and seventh in home runs.

Batista owns a career big league average of .251 with 591 runs scored, 211 doubles, 17 triples, 214 home runs and 681 RBIs in 1,179 games. He's a two-time All-Star and has played for the A's, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, Orioles and Expos.

The last time Batista saw Major League action was in 2004 with Montreal. That season, he hit .241 with 32 home runs and 110 RBIs. Since 1999, Batista has collected an average of 31 home runs and 99.5 RBIs per season, excluding his Japanese stats. Those power numbers are something that has impressed both Gardenhire and Ryan.

"He's got a history of power," Ryan said. "His average amount of home runs would lead our team. We feel pretty good about this move overall."

The biggest plus of the signing is that the Twins now have a proven glove at third base. It was a position of trouble for the club last season as Michael Cuddyer tried to fill in at the spot but struggled defensively, making 15 errors. Though Batista looks to be the solution at third base, his versatility of positions to play and clubhouse demeanor were things that Gardenhire said many have overlooked.

"You can use him a lot of different ways besides just at third -- first base, DH," Gardenhire said. "He can do a lot of things and he can hit. He's also a very nice man with great family so he fits the mold for us. We're not just after players but players with character and he fits that."

With the acquisition of Batista, the Twins' focus now shifts to the hole that remains at DH. That position won't be filled though until at least December 19. That's the date that free agents have to decide whether to accept a club's offer for arbitration and Minnesota is awaiting a decision from outfielder Jacque Jones.

"We're still concentrating on that area of DH, but quite a bit of what we do depends on what Jacque decides," Ryan said.

In other news, the Twins announced they have agreed to terms with catcher Shawn Wooten on a Minor League deal with an invite to Spring Training.

The 33-year-old Wooten batted .267 with 17 homers and 60 RBIs in 114 games for Triple-A Pawtucket, the Red Sox farm team, last season.

Wooten has more than three years of big league experience with the Angels, Phillies and Red Sox. He owns a career Major League average of .272 with 18 home runs and 86 RBIs in 267 games.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.