Twins and Thome agree to $3M contract for 2011

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Jim Thome didn’t need much time to determine he wanted to return for a 21st season. His back felt fine, and after 25 home runs in 276 at-bats for Minnesota last year, his powerful uppercut swing was sure in prime form.

“I still felt like, ‘Man, I can still do this,’” said Thome, who decided about a month after last season to keep his career going.

Thome and the Twins agreed Friday to a $3 million, one-year contract, doubling his salary after he provided a big lift last season for the AL Central champions. His new deal includes performance bonuses for plate appearances.

With manager Ron Gardenhire carefully rationing his playing time, particularly in the first half of the season when Justin Morneau was playing first base, Michael Cuddyer was in right field and Jason Kubel was the primary DH, Thome said he finished the season feeling strong and healthy. His back gave him a few problems, but nothing near the setbacks he’s endured in the past.

“I wasn’t hurting. My body wasn’t beat up,” Thome said on a conference call with local reporters. “I go, ‘Wait a minute. This may work out.’”

The designated hitter was one of baseball’s best 2010 bargains, hitting .283 with 16 doubles, two triples, 59 RBIs and 60 walks. Making $1.5 million on a one-year contract, Thome’s on-base-plus-slugging percentage was an eye-popping 1.039.

“He was a huge part of our success last year. We would not have won the division without him,” general manager Bill Smith said.

Thome ranks eighth in history with 589 homers. He doesn’t play in the field anymore, but he gave the Twins a huge boost, particularly after Justin Morneau’s concussion created an everyday spot in the lineup.

The five-time All-Star often talked about how much he enjoyed playing for the Twins. The Texas Rangers wanted him this time, too, giving Thome two playoff teams to consider in his quest to win a World Series.

In the end, his positive experience last season and the proximity to his family’s home in Illinois made Minnesota his pick.

“It’s great to be back. Minnesota’s a wonderful place,” Thome said.

Might this be his sunset season, assuming he passes the 600-homer mark?

“I don’t want to go into this season thinking this is my last year, because I think that’s unfair,” Thome said. “My plan is to possibly play two more years.”

Thome acknowledged that the home run milestone is on his mind, but he insisted he won’t let it dominate his focus.

“If it happens it would be a wonderful thing, but I’m going into this year saying, ‘Look, I’m on a great team,’” he said.

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