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White agrees to terms with Twins

Twins fill gap by striking a deal with White

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins had been looking for a strong bat all offseason to fill their hole at designated hitter, and on Thursday they found one.

The Twins signed free agent Rondell White to a one-year contract that includes a vesting option for 2007. White is set to make $3.25 million in 2006 with a possibility of making up to $8.5 million over the two years, according to The Associated Press.

Last year with Detroit, the 33-year-old White batted .313 (117-for-374) with 24 doubles, three triples, 12 homers and 53 RBIs over 97 games. Though he has played the outfield for much of his career, the Twins expect to use White primarily for the designated hitter position. Signing a veteran hitter like White, who not only has power but familiarity with the American League Central Division, seemed like the ideal fit for Twins general manager Terry Ryan.

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"We're had interest in Rondell for a long time," Ryan said. "We're very familiar with him from his playing time with Detroit. He's a strong athlete who's also a heck of a person, both on the field and in the clubhouse. We're really looking forward to having his bat in the lineup as long as we can keep him healthy."

Injuries have limited White's playing time in the past. His 2005 season was cut short on Aug. 14 when he dislocated his shoulder in Kansas City, an injury that required surgery later that month. At the time of his injury, his batting average ranked seventh in the American League.

Much of White's salary will hinge on whether the veteran can stay healthy and play regularly. The AP is reporting that his deal calls for a $2.5 million salary next year and includes a club option for 2007 with a $750,000 buyout. If White has 400 plate appearances next year his option would be guaranteed, with the price of the option depending on his plate appearance total. If he has 650 plate appearances each season, he would get the full $8.5 million.

The shoulder appears to be almost completely healed with White being able to swing the bat already and getting daily treatment on the shoulder. Ryan said that he has no concerns about the injury and expects White to be 100 percent by the time Spring Training begins. That might be soon enough for the Twins, but White feels like he could be ready to go even sooner.

"I feel great, heck, I could play tomorrow if they really needed that," White said with a chuckle. "Thankfully they don't, but I have been able to swing the bat and I will be hitting again real soon."

Though White has had his fair share of injuries, most have come due to defensive plays in the outfield. That fact is one of the main reasons White was looking for a team that would sign him primarily to play DH. Ryan said that he prefers to have White stay at that position, but with the Twins still having an opening in right field after Jacque Jones' departure, there could be times where the club may need White in the outfield.

"I'll do whatever needs to be done to help this team," White said. "If they ask me to play the outfield occasionally, I can still do that, too. I just have to watch my defensive play, because most of my injuries have come from diving and sliding in the outfield. I guess sometimes I think I'm Superman out there."

Superman he may not be, but the Twins hope he can bring that type of superhero power to the offense. The Twins struggled to get runs across last season, but if White's past numbers are any indication, his addition should bring help. Over the past two seasons, White has a .341 average with runners in scoring positon. He batted .364 (36-for-99) with runners in scoring position in 2005 and .322 (39-for-121) in 2004.

The Twins will be White's seventh Major League team in a career that has spanned 11 years. Originally selected by the Montreal Expos in the first round (24th overall) of the 1990 First-Year Player draft, White has played for the Expos, Cubs, Yankees, Padres, Royals and Tigers. He has a career batting average of .289 with 275 doubles, 33 triples, 187 homers and 710 RBIs over 1,337 games.

A National League All-Star in 2003, White had his finest season in 1999 when he established career highs in games (138), at-bats (539) and hits (168). White hit a career-high 28 homers in 1997 and has reached double-digits in homers each of the last nine seasons.

The best, though, White feels is yet to come. At only 33, White said that he believes he is in the prime of his career and that's one of the reasons he chose to come to Minnesota. By signing with the Twins, White feels that he has a good chance of being part of a winning ballclub.

"I'm looking for a great chance to win, and this team has the chance to do just that," White said. "The team has a great pitching staff, which is the name of the game, and with some of the additions they've made this offseason I think we can score runs. My goal is just to stay healthy and help this team offensively as much as I can."

White's signing came after the Twins had shown interest in bringing Mike Piazza or Frank Thomas to help boost the struggling offense. Though Ryan wouldn't eliminate the possibility of bringing in other players, it appears unlikely that either would come to Minnesota due to the club's limited payroll. But even with the primary holes in the lineup now filled, the Twins GM isn't ready to call the team set for the start of 2006 just yet.

"There are other areas of concern, still," Ryan said. "We'll continue to look. There are still some decent players out there available and we have concerns in terms of offense, defense and even with pitching. So we're going to continue to look."

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

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