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Twins trade Willingham to Royals

By Mike Berardino

St. Paul Pioneer Press

HOUSTON — Throughout his decade-long career, Josh Willingham has yet to reach the postseason.

He could finally get that opportunity after the Twins traded their veteran left fielder to the Kansas City Royals shortly before the start of Monday's game. In return, the Twins will receive Triple-A right-hander Jason Adam.

Willingham, 35, was owed $1.836 million for the final 48 days of the regular season and the Royals are expected to pick up the entire amount. He is in the final year of a three-year, $21 million contract.

"It's one of those things where you don't really know what your mind is processing," Willingham said after the first in-season trade of his career. "You know what's going on, but you have mixed emotions.

Any time you're saying goodbye to really good friends, it's tough."

The chance to join the Royals, trying to end a 29-year playoff drought and currently in possession of the American League's second wild-card spot, carries plenty of appeal. It also will mean a quick trip back to Target Field, where the Royals are due in this weekend.

"You look at the baseball part of it, and they're winning over there," Willingham said. "They have a good group of guys, from what I understand, so from the business part of it, it's a good move for me. I get a chance to win and maybe experience the playoffs, something I haven't been able to do in my career."

Monday's trade came two days after the Twins dealt right-hander Kevin Correia, another pending free agent, to the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers.

It also marks the second straight year the Twins have dealt a respected veteran to the Royals for a playoff push. Last year, infielder Jamey Carroll was traded on the same date.

While Correia cleared waivers, Willingham was claimed by the Royals and a deal was subsequently worked out.

"My three years here were fun," Willingham said of the Twin Cities. "It's a great baseball city; it really is. The fans are good. They love their baseball. It was a pleasure playing for (Twins manager Ron Gardenhire), the coaching staff.

"All the relationships, from the owner all the way down to Dom the batboy, has been a pleasure and is something that I'll always cherish. The only part that didn't happen is we wanted to win and we weren't able to."

Adam, 23, is a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder who has gone a combined 5-9 this season at the Royals' top two minor league levels. Rated the Royals' No. 9 prospect by Baseball America, Adam had been pitching out of the bullpen for Triple-A Omaha after making 92 combined starts from 2011-14, but the Twins will send him back to Double-A New Britain to work as a starter.

He was drafted in the fifth round out of an Overland Park, Kan., high school in 2010. Adam has a fastball that has reached 97 mph but his secondary pitches are just considered average and he has struggled against left-handed batters.

"He's got stuff. His stuff is pretty impressive," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "His numbers are not eye-popping, but we've seen him play a bit. A number of our people have put in good reports on him."

Willingham homered in his final game with the Twins on Sunday in Oakland. The same thing happened last Aug. 30 for Justin Morneau at Texas, where he homered the night before the Twins traded him into a pennant race with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Signed as a free agent to replace Michael Cuddyer after the 2011 season, Willingham had a strong debut season with the Twins, hitting 35 homers with 110 runs batted in for 2012.

"He had a fantastic first year," Ryan said.

Willingham slumped in his follow-up campaign, playing through knee pain for two months before undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in early July. Willingham finished 2012 with a .208 batting average and just 14 home runs.

Another physical setback cost Willingham 41 games this year after he was hit on the left wrist with a Justin Masterson fastball in Cleveland on the first Sunday of the season. He returned in mid-May but has largely struggled to find his power stroke.

Willingham was hitting .210 with 12 home runs in 224 at-bats this season. His combined on-base/slugging percentage was .747, nearly 80 points below his career norm.

"This year it seemed like he was trying to catch up," Ryan said. "I have no second thoughts about the acquisition of Josh three years ago."

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.