MINNEAPOLIS -- Jason Kubel will be back in a Twins uniform for the 2011 season, but Nick Punto's seven-year tenure with the team might have come to an end. The Twins announced Friday morning that they had exercised Kubel's $5.25 million club option for next season, and they had declined Punto's $5 million club option, making him eligible to become a free agent. Punto, who made $4 million in each of the last two seasons, played in 88 games for the Twins in 2010. He batted .238 with 11 doubles, one triple, one home run and 20 RBIs, but he went on the disabled list twice with a strained left hamstring.
Despite being plagued at times by injuries during his career with the Twins, Punto has been a versatile infielder who manager Ron Gardenhire has called his best defensively at any position since arriving in Minnesota before the 2004 season. The Twins acquired Punto from the Phillies, along with pitchers Carlos Silva and Bobby Korecky, in a trade for Eric Milton on Dec. 3, 2003. In his seven seasons with the Twins, Punto batted .248 with 12 home runs, 194 RBIs and a .323 on-base percentage. His best season came in 2006, when he took over the starting third-base job mid-season and hit .290 with 21 doubles and a career-high 45 RBIs while helping the Twins to the AL Central title that year. Punto, 32, will be paid a $500,000 buyout and he will now have the option to test the free-agent market, which will open five days after the World Series ends. But there is a chance that the Twins could bring the infielder back at a lesser salary. General manager Bill Smith was taking part in the team's annual organizational meetings on Friday and could not be reached for comment, so it's unclear just how much interest the team might have in signing Punto to another deal. Kubel is coming off a slightly disappointing season, hitting .249 with 21 home runs and 92 RBIs in 143 games for the Twins in 2010, but the 28-year-old still finished second on the team in RBIs. After starting last season as Minnesota's everyday designated hitter, Kubel spent nearly the entire second half playing in right field. He was used almost exclusively in the outfield after Michael Cuddyer shifted to first base in the absence of Justin Morneau, who suffered a season-ending concussion on July 7.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.