MINNEAPOLIS - Josh Willingham had several options, but the free-agent outfielder felt he was most wanted in Minnesota.
Despite offers from several teams, Willingham narrowed his choices to the Cincinnati Reds and the Twins. In the end, it was an easy choice, he said.
"The one thing I can say about the Twins is they expressed interest from the time that they could have. I felt wanted there," Willingham said on a conference call Friday. "I felt like the Twins really wanted me, and you look at their organization - I talked to several players that were familiar with the organization, and everybody said great things about it from top to bottom. That was a big factor."
The Twins officially announced the addition of the 32-year-old Willingham on Thursday, when he signed a three-year, 21 million contract with Minnesota. Willingham played 136 games for Oakland last season, his eighth year in the majors. He batted .246 with a .332 on-base percentage and set career highs in home runs (29) and RBI (98). Willingham played for Florida and Washington prior to Oakland.
Minnesota also had an offer out to free agent right fielder Michael Cuddyer, who spent his entire 11-year career with the Twins. But as Cuddyer took his time to make a decision, Minnesota felt it needed to snatch up another free-agent outfielder.
So they signed Willingham.
"Ultimately, it started to get to a point of no return. We didn't want to be left without, and consequently, this is a situation that seemed to be the right decision at the time," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "As we moved into the winter, everybody knew we were looking for a corner profile outfielder, preferably a right-handed bat. Josh fits that role perfectly. But he has power. He takes good at-bats. His makeup is what we're looking for."
Willingham has played just a handful games in right field throughout his career, spending most of his time in left field. But Ryan believes Willingham is able to make the switch from left to right if needed.
"We think he's athletic enough to move over to right field," Ryan said. "We think his arm is adequate enough to play right field."
Other corner outfield options for the Twins include Denard Span or Ben Revere -- whoever doesn't play center field -- and Rene Tosoni. Minnesota also plans to move Trevor Plouffe from shortstop to the outfield, so he could also compete for time at a corner outfield spot. Willingham admitted his comfort level in right field is "not great right now," but believes he can pick up the position with some work this spring.
"I've played about 10 games there in '09. That's all the experience that I've had out there," Willingham said. "I would say with some reps in spring training and some extra work, I can probably feel right at home out there. I'm not really worried about playing right field that much because I know I'm going to get a lot of work prior to the season."
Willingham's 29 home runs last year were was more than any Twins player had in 2011. But he also had a career-high 150 strikeouts and an on-base percentage of .332, his lowest since his rookie year in 2004.
The Twins hit just 103 homers in 2011, third-fewest in the majors. They had a team slugging percentage of .360, which was also third-worst in baseball. Minnesota is hoping Willingham can help improve those numbers like he did with Oakland last year.
"I knew I was looked upon to bring some power and some thump, if you will, to that lineup," Willingham said of last season. "I'm sure that was in the back of my mind, but I would like to get back to - I think I'm at my best as an overall player offensively when I'm going deep into some counts and working some walks and seeing a lot of pitches. I got away from that a little bit last year, but the home run total and the RBI total went up."
Willingham is the third notable free-agent signing the Twins have made this offseason, along with backup catcher Ryan Doumit and veteran infielder Jamey Carroll. Minnesota is coming off a 99-loss season in 2011 and is hoping its new additions can help turn things around.
"You look at this Twins organization as a whole, you think about them being a playoff contender over the last several years," Willingham said. "Last year obviously wasn't the best year for them. Hopefully, we can get back on track."