After making handing minor-league contracts to a pair of relief pitchers and a designated hitter within the past couple weeks, the Twins made their first legitimate move of the off-season today by signing third baseman Jeff Cirillo away from the Brewers. Cirillo, 37, will likely serve as a backup option at third base and first base and may also fill the DH role on occasion.
While Cirillo's one-year, $1.25 million deal is similar to the one Tony Batista signed prior to last season, it should be noted that Cirillo is essentially the anti-Batista. Cirillo has never really been known for his power, but he hits for good average, controls the strike zone and plays solid defense.
Once upon a time in his career, Cirillo was an absolute stud. In 1999 with the Brewers, he hit .326/.401/.461 with 15 HR and 88 RBI. He then moved on to Colorado, where he had two highly productive seasons. In 2002, Cirillo moved on to Seattle, where things fell apart completely for him. In his first season with the Mariners, he hit just .249/.301/.328. The next season those numbers dropped to .205/.284/.271. In 2004 Cirillo hit .213 in 75 at-bats with the Padres and it seemed at age 34 perhaps things were coming to a close. Instead, Cirillo caught on with the Brewers and had a bit of a revival, hitting .281/.373/.427 in 185 at-bats in 2005 and maintaining that production last year by batting .319/.369/.414 last year.
In an off-season where outrageous contracts are being signed by mediocre players around the league, Cirillo seems like a sneaky bargain. He's no spring chicken and his most productive days as a hitter are likely behind him, but he fills some major areas of need for the Twins. He gives them needed depth at third base as well as first base, and he's a right-handed hitter who hits extremely well against southpaws. Perhaps most importantly, Cirillo provides an insurance plan in case Nick Punto struggles offensively in 2007. While Punto had a nice overall season in '06, it cannot be ignored that he hit just .267 with zero power outside of the month of July. If Punto is stagnant offensively in the upcoming season, Cirillo would be able to take over at third, allowing Punto to return to his utility role. Cirillo would also be able to take over the hot corner in the event that the gimpy Luis Castillo becomes injured and unable to play and Punto has to slide over to second.
Much like with the Batista signing last year, the Twins have brought in a former All-Star third baseman who has fallen from glory in recent years. Unlike Batista, however, Cirillo has been a competent player over the past couple seasons and there is reason to think he can be a valuable asset to the Twins. This is a good signing that strengthens the team's bench immensely heading into the 2007 campaign.