KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Royals bolstered their offense Monday by acquiring outfielder Josh Willingham from the Minnesota Twins, a move the long-suffering franchise hopes will help them end a playoff drought that stretches back nearly three decades.
Kansas City had won seven straight games entering its series opener against Oakland, climbing into the second wild-card spot and a half-game back of AL Central-leading Detroit. The Royals have not been to the postseason since 1985, when they beat St. Louis to win the World Series.
“Obviously the goal was to win with the Twins,” Willingham said from Houston, where the Twins were preparing to play the Astros. “Unfortunately, we weren’t. Now I have a chance to go help another club and hopefully make the playoffs.”
Willingham is expected to arrive in Kansas City in time for Tuesday night’s game.
The Twins picked up minor league pitcher Jason Adam in the trade, while the Royals agreed to take on the remainder of Willingham’s contract – about $1.8 million of the $7 million that he was making in the final year of his three-year deal.
Willingham was hitting just .210 for the Twins this season, but his 12 homers in limited at-bats were appealing for a Royals club that has struggled to find power. The 35-year-old Willingham hit a career-best 35 homers with 110 RBIs two years ago.
“We see his presence in the middle of our lineup somewhere, and being that presence that can get some big hits for us,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “He had a big hit yesterday actually against Oakland. He’s a professional. He’s a winner. We feel very strong that he’s going to help our team. He’s the type of player and presence that you add at this time of year.”
Moore said that Willingham is more likely to serve as a designated hitter than play in the outfield, where there is already a logjam of players. Billy Butler, the club’s normal DH, has been forced to play first base while Eric Hosmer is on the disabled list with a right hand injury.
“I think he’ll be in the lineup most days as we set up right now,” Moore said.
The Royals cleared space for Willingham on the 40-man roster by requesting unconditional release waivers on right-hander Wilking Rodriguez. They will still have to make a move to add Willingham to the 25-man roster when he reports to Kansas City.
“It doesn’t soak in immediately,” Willingham said. “It’s one of those things you don’t know what your mind is processing. You know it’s going on but you have mixed emotions. Any time you’re saying goodbye to really good friends, it’s tough, but at the same time – the other side of it, the baseball side of it – they’re winning over there. From a business side, it’s good for me.”
The 23-year-old Adam, who grew up in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, was 5-9 with a 4.67 ERA with Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha this season. And while the Royals had toyed with making him a reliever, the Twins intend to convert him back to a starter.
He will be assigned to the club’s Double-A affiliate in New Britain.
“His stuff is pretty impressive,” Twins GM Terry Ryan said. “You look at his bio, his numbers aren’t eye-popping, but you see him play, a number of our people have put in good reports on him. We’re going to slow him down a bit and see if we can’t get some of that under control.”
AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this report.