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What will Willingham do for an encore?

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One of the biggest surprises in the 2012 season was the performance of Josh Willingham. The veteran outfielder signed a free agent deal with the club before the season and he went on to have the best offensive campaign of his career. He led the Twins in a variety of offensive categories including home runs, RBI, and slugging percentage.

After a season that stands out like Willingham's, there can be some questions about whether he will be able to replicate his fantastic numbers. The 34-year old will be entering his tenth year at the big league level. His age and track record at the big league level might leave fans wondering what he will be able to do for an encore.
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Being able to stay on the field for an entire season has been a little bit of a challenge for Willingham in the past. Last year, he played in a career high 145 games. It was the first time he had played over 140 games since 2007, his second full year in the league.

In the four seasons from 2008-2011, Willingham averaged 121 games played. He only made it into 102 games in 2008 and 114 games in 2010. This means he was missing a fourth of the season on average due to injury and other causes. That can be scary to think about after how healthy he was able to stay in 2012.

One way the Twins could try to keep Willingham healthy is by having him spend more time at DH. He only played 25 games last year but look for that number to go up this season. Joe Mauer wants to spend more time behind the plate and Justin Morneau seems to be healthy. If those players aren't being used at DH, Willingham might get a few more opportunities to stay out of the outfield.

Keeping Willingham out of the outfield could also help the team's defense. Of course, that depends on who takes his place in the outfield. The thought of having Willingham and Chris Parmalee in the corner outfield spots had to be a nightmare for the starting staff. If a more athletic fielder like Joe Benson or Darin Mastroianni took left field, it could stabilize the defense.

While Willingham did set personal bests in a variety of offensive categories, his batting average of .260 was very close to his career mark. His on-base percentage was only a couple points higher than his career mark. This means that fans can expect him to be close to those numbers again.

After the Twins signed Willingham, it seemed like his swing was built for Target Field. That proved to be true as he hit 21 of his 35 home runs in Minneapolis. To get the ball out of Target Field, it is important to pull the ball. Willingham is the perfect example of a dead pull hitter with none of his home runs last season going to opposite field.
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Willingham's contract with the club runs through the 2014 season for a very reasonable rate. The slugger will average $7 million over the next two years. If the Twins can get the same production level out of him over the life of the contract, it will be a steal. His health and some rising outfield prospects might mean a change in the next couple of years.

A trade involving Willingham could be possible in the next two years. It is hard to imagine the Twins pushing for a World Series title in 2013 or 2014. The club is in the middle of a rebuilding process and Willingham might not be part of the next winning team in Minnesota.

If the club gets the right deal for the slugger, he could be packing his bags. For now, Twins fans will have to wait to see what "The Hammer" can do for an encore. He clobbered a home run in his first spring training game so maybe it is a sign of some more good things to come in 2013.

Comments

  1. Oldgoat_MN's Avatar
    Nice write up Codey. Thank you.
    There is not a team in MLB that doesn't wish THEY had signed that contract with Willingham.
    Any production close to last year would be wonderful.
  2. h2oface's Avatar
    Looks like mostly a left center spay to me.... the gap. But over the fence - almost all over 400 feet. I wonder what the Hammer's offense looks like when he DH'd instead of played left field.
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