Twins acquire Monroe from Cubs

Twins acquire Monroe from Cubs

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins have made it clear this offseason that their priority is to bolster an offense which was lackluster in 2007.

On Tuesday, they showed just how urgent they feel that need may be.

The Twins made their first move of the offseason, acquiring outfielder Craig Monroe from the Cubs in exchange for a player to be named later.

What made the move somewhat surprising is that the Cubs had intended to non-tender Monroe next month. Monroe would have then become a free agent, allowing the Twins to negotiate with the outfielder at that time.

Instead, the Twins chose to give up a low-level prospect for a chance to boost their lineup now.

"[Monroe] may be a good fit for us, and there was no sense in waiting a month," Twins general manager Bill Smith said. "It gives us an opportunity to meet with his agent and talk about it by ourselves. I think that's a plus for us."

Monroe, 30, made $4.8 million last season and he is arbitration-eligible again this year. But following a disappointing 2007 season for Monroe in which he hit just .219 in 122 games, the Twins could try to negotiate a lower-priced deal with the knowledge that they can non-tender Monroe in December if a contract is not finalized by then.

When reached by phone Tuesday, Monroe said that he is eager to work out a contract with the club and to don a Twins uniform next season.

"I'm excited about getting the chance to play with these guys, a group of young guys that are very talented," Monroe said. "I think it's a great place for me to play and get some at-bats. I think the big thing for me, no disrespect to the Cubs, what a great organization, but I wanted to be in a situation where I could play and get back to doing some of the things that I'm capable of doing."

After helping lead the Tigers to the World Series in 2006 by hitting .255 with 28 home runs in the regular season, Monroe saw his production level off in '07. He was designated for assignment by Detroit in August after hitting just .222 with 11 home runs.

The Cubs then acquired him in a trade with Detroit on Aug. 23, but Monroe wasn't able to get back on track offensively. He hit .204 with one homer in 23 games for Chicago and was left off the playoff roster for the National League Division Series.

"I think I put too much pressure on myself," Monroe said of his offensive woes in '07. "Sometimes you just have step back and allow your natural ability to take over. Instead of trying to do too much, you have to relax and have fun. I learned a lot of things from last year and I look forward to putting the Twins uniform on and giving them a chance to see what I've learned. I think they will be excited about it."

Monroe was also hampered by a sore left knee during the first half of last season. He said it's something he has battled his entire career due to a higher-than-normal knee cap which can often result in patellar tendonitis. Monroe has changed his workout regimen this offseason, adding extra leg extensions and leg curls in an attempt to prevent any further injuries.

Hot Stove

"I'm doing things right now to make sure that's not going to be a problem during the season -- really focusing on my lower body to make sure my lower half is ready to go," Monroe said.

A healthy Monroe could provide the Twins with the power right-handed bat they have been seeking. Monroe averaged 23 home runs a year over the past five seasons. He's a career .273 hitter vs. lefties -- something that a left-handed laden Twins lineup could use in a division full of ace southpaws like Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia and Chicago's Mark Buehrle. Monroe is also familiar with the American League Central, having played five-plus seasons with the Tigers.

During his time in Detroit, Monroe found a lot of success at the Metrodome. He holds a career .304 batting average in 35 games at the ballpark. Monroe has fared well against the Twins overall -- hitting .322 with 13 home runs in 283 career at-bats vs. Minnesota.

"He's been a proven run production guy in the past," Smith said. "One of our goals this offseason is to add offense to this club, and while Craig had a disappointing year last season, we are hoping that he can bounce back and regain his stroke."

In addition to possibly being a candidate for the designated hitter spot, Monroe gives the Twins depth in the outfield. He provides another option in left field besides Jason Kubel, yet has the ability to play all three outfield positions.

But while a hole may be open in center field if the club cannot re-sign free agent Torii Hunter, the Twins don't expect Monroe to be the full-time solution at the spot.

"He can play center, but I don't know that he's an everyday center fielder," Smith said. "It will be up to the manager and the coaching staff as to exactly where he fits in the mix."

Monroe is hoping that the hole in center won't be there for him to take over. He and Hunter are close friends. They even train together during the offseason at a facility outside Dallas.

"I mentioned it to him already," Monroe said about the possibility of the two playing together. "He's like my big brother. He looks out for me and gives me a lot of vital information. But while I'd love to have him here, I know he has to do what's best for him, his family and his career."

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