Minnesota Twins Opening Day Countdown: 16, Josh Willingham
By Nate Palmer
The Minnesota Twins are just 16 days away from Opening Day in Baltimore. As we near that day, here is more Twins history related to that number.
The Minnesota Twins are preparing for a 2018 season with expectation after making the playoffs in 2017 as a Wild Card team. We will highlight numbers from team history that represent the number of days until Opening Day on March 29th in Baltimore.
As we are well into the teens at this point of our countdown. We look back at a player who brought right-handed power back to the Twins lineup. He made history before he officially put on the uniform and then also made history on the field. Today we remember number 16, Josh Willingham.
If you watched Willingham play at all with the Twins it is hard to believe that he was at one time a shortstop. The only reason his defense looked passable is we fans had just finished watching Delmon Young in that same position for several years. Willingham, although a shortstop as a young player, found a home in the outfield as he came up with the Florida Marlins. In 2006, Willingham quickly found his bat in his rookie season and hit .277/.356/.496 and 26 home runs.
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Willingham would continue to establish himself as a solid, power-hitting left fielder as he also played for the Washington Nationals and Oakland Athletics. In 2011, the right-hander had one of his best seasons of power output slashing .246/.332/.477 and added 29 home runs. That season Willingham was a free agent and the Twins signed him to a franchise record three year and $21 million contract.
From record deal to record power
Willingham was signed to be the replacement for Michael Cuddyer who signed a big free agent contract to go sign with the New York Mets that same offseason. As good and beloved as Cuddyer was as a Twin, the Willingham signing paid off very well in Willingham’s first season with the team. In 2012, he hit .260/.366/.524 and hit 35 home runs and 30 doubles. Those numbers earned Willingham the Silver Slugger Award.
Willingham’s season also represented the most home runs a Twins batter had hit that wasn’t named Harmon Killebrew since Bob Allison hit the same total in 1963. Willingham would hit serious decline after that great season in 2012. In 2013, his slash line would be a pedestrian .208/.342/.368 and his home run total was down to 14. 2014 wasn’t much better as he slashed .210/.345/.402 while with the Twins. That decline and the Twins record led to the Twins trading Willingham to the Kansas City Royals in August for minor leaguer Jason Adam.
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Willingham may not have fully lived up to his big free agent deal over the whole of his time with the Twins. He did provide the Twins with one of the most exciting power seasons in quite some time. For that, we celebrate as we hit 16 days to Opening Day number 16, Josh Willingham.