MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minnesota Twins released designated hitter David Ortiz to make room on the roster for shortstop Jose Morban, selected from the Texas organization in Monday's Rule 5 draft.
Trading Ortiz was one of general manager Terry Ryan's top priorities at baseball's winter meetings, which concluded Monday. But Ryan couldn't quite get a deal done.
"I would've liked to have found a home for him," Ryan said from Nashville, Tenn., this year's meeting spot. "We exhausted every avenue, but in essence it turned out to be an Ortiz-for-Morban type of thing."
Ortiz, 27, batted .272 with 32 doubles, 20 home runs and 75 RBIs in 412 at-bats and 125 games last season. In his four-plus seasons, he hit .266 with 108 doubles, 58 homers and 238 RBIs in 455 games.
The Twins believed Ortiz could be the 35-to-40-homer hitter their lineup has been missing for years, but injuries always seemed to throw his rhythm off. He missed 18 games after bone chips in his knee were found, and a broken wrist cost him more than two months in 2001.
As a rookie in 1998, the left-handed, 6-foot-4, 230-pound Ortiz also missed two months, also with a broken wrist.
Ortiz made $950,000 in 2002 and likely would have earned a 2003 contract worth more than $1 million through salary arbitration. His departure creates more at-bats for Matthew LeCroy, Bobby Kielty, Dustan Mohr and Michael Cuddyer, four young right-handed hitters who should all see some time at DH in 2003.
"I've got a lot of options," said manager Ron Gardenhire, having just returned from Nashville.
The Twins struggled against left-handed pitching last year, so inserting another righty (LeCroy will probably play the most because he has the most power) in the everyday lineup should help.
That doesn't mean Ortiz -- one of the team's leading pranksters and practical jokers -- won't be missed.
"He's a good friend," Gardenhire said. "This is one of toughest things about the manager's job. It's not fun seeing guys go like that."
Morban, 23, batted .260 in 485 at-bats with 27 doubles, 12 triples, eight homers, 66 RBIs and 21 stolen bases for Class A Charlotte last season and fills a need for a speedy backup middle infielder.
He must remain on the Twins' active roster all season or be offered back to Texas for half the $50,000 price the Twins paid to select him in Monday's draft.
Johan Santana, who emerged as a reliable starter last year, was a Rule 5 pick in 2000.
"You hope you can get them through the year, pick your spots and put them in a situation that's conducive to his success," Ryan said. "It's a difficult thing to ask, going from A-ball to the majors."
Ryan also confirmed he made contact this weekend with Larry Reynolds, the agent for Torii Hunter, regarding a long-term contract for the Twins' All-Star center fielder. Hunter, who made $2.4 million this season, is eligible for arbitration and can't be a free agent for another three years.
Ryan said Hunter is the only player he'll be negotiating a multiyear deal with for the time being. Left fielder Jacque Jones and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, the two others who are up for arbitration, figure to be the next two in line if the Twins decide to lock up some more of their core for the long term.
In the minor league portion of Monday's draft, the Twins selected right-handed pitcher Victor Moreno from Philadelphia in the Triple-A phase and left-handed pitcher Eric Fischer from the Chicago White Sox in the Double-A phase. The Twins lost right-handed pitcher David Manning to Milwaukee and outfielder Rafael Boitel to Seattle in the Triple-A phase and first baseman Eric Sandberg to Seattle in the Double-A phase.
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