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Twins transform into destination for free agents

@dohyoungpark
January 25, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins brought in Nelson Cruz before the 2019 season with the idea that the veteran's addition in the clubhouse could help a young Minnesota team compete to be among the best in the game. It's quite the opposite now: With the team coming off a 101-win season

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins brought in Nelson Cruz before the 2019 season with the idea that the veteran's addition in the clubhouse could help a young Minnesota team compete to be among the best in the game.

It's quite the opposite now: With the team coming off a 101-win season and an American League Central championship behind the efforts of a young, homegrown offense and bullpen, veterans are coming to Minnesota, even on short-term deals, because they think it's a good place for them to win now and they feel that they have plenty to contribute to that cause.

Donaldson move a watershed moment for Twins

Third baseman Josh Donaldson made that much clear in his introductory press conference on Wednesday, and fellow veteran additions Rich Hill, Tyler Clippard and Alex Avila echoed those sentiments when they met their new teammates for the first time at TwinsFest on Friday and Saturday at Target Field.

"It really came down to winning a World Series," Hill said. "I think that’s something that, looking at this locker room and looking at a team that won over 100 games last year, it was a huge, motivating factor for me in signing here. That’s the main goal for me, is to bring as much energy and effort as I can to this clubhouse and help the team, obviously, get to the postseason, win the division and then win 11 games to hold that trophy."

Hill has plenty of experience with winning clubhouses through his last four seasons with the Dodgers. All four of those Los Angeles teams won the National League West, with two going on to win the National League pennant. Hill said that the Twins’ lineup, staff, clubhouse dynamic and energy excited him in a manner similar to those Dodgers teams.

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Coming from the division-rival Indians, Clippard delivered a similar message. The veteran of 13 Major League seasons and 14 career playoff games said he had been in contact with the Twins about a possible deal over the last several offseasons but felt that this was a good time to be a part of a winning team in Minneapolis.

"Big time," Clippard said. "It was hard to predict what they were going to do last year [during the] preseason. But, being on the Cleveland Indians, watching these guys play a lot, the depth of their lineup, the ability of these hitters to put together good at-bats and grind a pitching staff down, we were on the receiving end of that many times over there in Cleveland. It was tough to pitch against. I'm happy to be on this side."

Clippard posted a 2.90 ERA over 53 appearances in 2019 for the Indians, including three as an opener. His Indians team was embroiled in a tough battle for the AL Central title throughout the late summer until the Twins eventually pulled ahead to win by a comfortable eight-game margin. He said that it only took a few days for a deal to come together with the Twins this winter.

The D-backs had a disappointing finish to their season last year as they faltered down the stretch in their bid to reach the NL Wild Card Game, but as Avila looked for new teams as a free agent, he didn't originally think that the Twins would be an option for him.

Avila only learned of the possibility of becoming a Twin when Justin Morneau, a special assistant to the Twins' front office, sent Avila a text about the vacancy early in the offseason. It wasn't a tough sell for Avila to be lured to the Twins to serve in a backup role behind 2019 breakout star and Silver Slugger Award winner Mitch Garver.

"They didn’t really have to sell me on it," Avila said. "I knew it was a good team watching from the other league and seeing what they were able to do over the course of the year. I wasn’t really sure the Twins would be an option for me. I didn’t really know what they were going to plan on doing with Jason [Castro]."

As general manager Thad Levine asserted on a panel in front of Twins fans at TwinsFest on Saturday, the Twins had missed on free agents in the past not because of any perceived issues with the organization, location or clubhouse, but more because the Twins hadn't yet established a winning culture and track record.

"That was kind of the missing piece on this team, really," Clippard said. "I was talking to some guys that have been here a little while, and I think they're excited about it, too. It just brings a different element to the clubhouse. Guys that have been there and seen a lot of different things can really help the young guys, especially when it comes to August, September and October in those spots.

"You saw it last year with a very experienced Washington Nationals team, and they ended up winning it all. That says a lot about what it takes to win: It's experience. It goes a long way."

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.