MINNEAPOLIS -- There is much to fix before the Minnesota Twins can climb back into contention. Terry Ryan knew right where he wanted to start when he resumed his role as general manager.
Veteran infielder Jamey Carroll signed a two-year contract with the Twins worth at least $6.5 million, a deal announced Wednesday that includes a mutual option for the 2014 season.
Carroll will turn 38 before spring training begins, but that didn't scare away the Twins, who've had four opening day shortstops in the last four years -- plus five other players who've started several games at one of the sport's most important positions.
"We had issues trying to make the routine play," Ryan said, referring to last season's 99-loss debacle. "I think everybody saw that. If we can solidify that, it'll help our pitching staff and it'll help a lot of things."
Carroll is an "old school type player," as manager Ron Gardenhire put it, a scrappy, fundamentally sound, trustworthy veteran who will be asked to stay healthy, set a good example for the young guys, be strong with his glove and get on base.
He'll be the quarterback on defense, not offense, but he batted .290 in 452 at-bats with a .359 on-base percentage last year for the Los Angeles Dodgers so he's capable of some production even though he has only 12 career home runs.
"I understand who I am at the plate. I understand my part of the game and how I fit in the lineup," Carroll said. He added: "I have no problem going 0 for 4 and moving four runners over to third base. Hopefully we got four runs out of it, and we won 4-3."
Ryan said that Carroll will compete for the starting job, but the Twins didn't sign him to be a utility man.
He'll make $2.75 million this season and $3.75 million the season after that, with the opportunity to earn bonuses for incentives such as 550-plus plate appearances or winning a Gold Glove award. If Carroll has 401 or more plate appearances in 2013, he'll have the option to return to the Twins in 2014 for $2 million or become a free agent. If he doesn't make it to the batter's box that many times in 2013, the Twins will have the option, either to keep him at that agreed-upon 2014 salary or buy out his contract for $250,000.
"I understand this position that we're in right now and how this team is made up. I obviously did my homework, and I'm excited for this opportunity," Carroll said. "I understand that if you want anything in life you've got work hard for it to be rewarded. I knew I was going to hear my age. I don't think I'm as old as people think. I do my best to take care of myself in the offseason, and I go out there with the mindset that I'm going to be playing every day."
Carroll's agent, Jonathan Maurer, said several other teams aggressively pursued his client with multi-year offers. He credited Ryan, special assistant Wayne Krivsky and Gardenhire for each contacting Carroll to express their interest.
"Yes, we know his age," said Ryan, who replaced the fired Bill Smith last week. "We also know if you visually look at him he certainly doesn't look like he's 37 or 38. He can still run. He looks like he's aged well."
This is Carroll's fifth organization in 10 seasons. He has a .991 career fielding percentage, with experience at second base and third base. But he's here to play shortstop, which leaves Tsuyoshi Nishioka's future with the team unclear after an injury-impacted first year in the majors.
Nishioka signed a three-year contract last December for $3 million annually plus a $250,000 buyout if his 2014 option isn't picked up by the Twins for $4 million. They also spent $5.329 million on the posting fee, which as the highest bidder to his Japanese team gave them exclusive negotiating rights. He could be sent to Triple-A to continue his development, after committing 12 errors in 68 games and hitting just .226 with five extra-base hits in 221 at-bats.
"We need to find out what kind of player we have in Nishioka," Ryan said, insisting he'll have the opportunity at shortstop.
Since Jason Bartlett was traded after the 2007 season, the Twins have used nine different shortstops and at least four each year. They signed Adam Everett in 2008, made a late-season trade for Orlando Cabrera in 2009, acquired J.J. Hardy for 2010 and then pursued Nishioka last year. Nick Punto, Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla and Trevor Plouffe have all taken their turns there, too.
Casilla is the second baseman now, and Plouffe will be moved to the corner outfield spots to take better advantage of his power potential at the plate.