<
>

Twins, Hernandez agree to one-year, $5M deal

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins added some seasoning to
their suddenly raw rotation.

Right-hander Livan Hernandez agreed Tuesday to a $5 million,
one-year contract with the team that could earn him an additional
$2 million in performance bonuses, raising the average age for a
group ransacked by the departures of Johan Santana and
Carlos Silva.

Santana was traded to the New York Mets, and Silva signed with
the Seattle Mariners. Another starter from last season, Matt Garza,
was dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays.

"If we could find the right guy, we were going to add that,"
general manager Bill Smith said. "We certainly weren't afraid to
go in without veteran starters, but it's going to be give those
young players someone to look to."

Last year, Hernandez made $7 million while going 11-11 with a
4.93 ERA in 33 starts for Arizona. He pitched for the Diamondbacks
in the NL Championship Series.

Hernandez, a native of Cuba, has been quite durable over 10-plus
years in the majors, logging at least 199 innings each season since
1998. As a rookie in 1997, he won a World Series with the Florida
Marlins.

Over the past eight years, the two-time All-Star -- who has never
pitched in the American League -- led the majors with more than
1,837 innings and 32 complete games. He is 134-128 with a 4.25 ERA
in 350 career starts.

The Twins have always been against paying big bucks for
free-agent pitchers, preferring to develop their own and
selectively hand out lucrative contract extensions to some of them.

They've occasionally tried to supplement the staff with
relatively cheap veterans, a move that brought them Ramon Ortiz and
Sidney Ponson last season.

Though Ortiz and Ponson were only signed for a total of $4.1
million, a portion of which was saved when Ortiz was traded to
Colorado in August, they ultimately hurt the team more than they
helped.

Ortiz went 3-1 with a 2.57 ERA in his first five starts, but he
was banished to the bullpen in late May and finished with a 5.14
ERA and a .298 batting-average against in 91 innings for Minnesota.
Ponson was released after going 2-5 with a 6.93 ERA in just seven
starts.

In 2003, Twins were successful with a $2 million contract given
to Kenny Rogers midway through spring training. Rogers went 13-8
with a 4.57 ERA in 31 starts for the AL Central champions that
year.

Smith refused to second-guess the Ortiz and Ponson signings,
because they were "good teammates" and allowed for more
development in the minors for a pair of prospects who are
front-runners for spots in the rotation this spring. Scott Baker
replaced Ponson, and Kevin Slowey was called up after Ortiz's
demotion.

The Twins committed between $5 million and $7 million toward the
belief that Hernandez was worth adding.

Plenty of room remains for the young guys, with Baker, Slowey,
Francisco Liriano, Boof Bonser, Nick Blackburn, Philip Humber and
possibly Glen Perkins among the myriad candidates for starting
spots when spring training begins next week. Bonser and Baker are
the most experienced, with 48 major league starts apiece.

Also, Hernandez and Liriano share the same agent, Greg Genske.

"He'll be a good influence on the rest of the rotation," Smith
said. "We're looking forward to having him here, and we're happy
to be adding him to our ballclub."

Closer Joe Nathan was a teammate of Hernandez's with San
Francisco from 1999-2002. He remembered getting his "butt
whipped" on the golf course by Hernandez, who often shot near par.
Nathan lamented that Hernandez won't get to bat, other than in
interleague road games, because he's a .232 hitter with nine career
home runs. In 2001, Hernandez batted .296 in 81 at-bats for the
Giants.

Mostly, Nathan was glad to add him to the staff.

"It's not so important to get a veteran guy just to have him
there, if he's not going to be at the same level that the younger
guy would be," Nathan said. "But you get a guy like this that has
proven he throws a ton of innings and knows how to pitch, I think
if you can pick up a guy like that, it's a great fit."