Longest-tenured Twin Max Kepler grateful to be back in Minnesota

Max Kepler’s name has floated around in trade talk for years. In that time, a countless number of his teammates have been traded — most recently his longtime friend, Jorge Polanco — or have departed in free agency.

But Kepler, who signed with the Twins as an international free agent out of Germany in 2009, has been a constant in the Twins’ clubhouse, watching as those around him come and go.

Now the longest-tenured Twin, Kepler, 31, whose name was once again mentioned in trade rumors this offseason, said he’s not surprised to be back for what could be his last year in Minnesota — he is a free agent after this season. He’s not surprised, just grateful.

“It’s a business, and you’ve got to be grateful for any opportunity, and you’ve got to make the most of it while you can,” Kepler said. “I’m happy to be here.”

Kepler certainly made the most of his opportunity in the second half of the 2023 season, playing perhaps some of the best baseball he has in his entire career after a lackluster first half. The right fielder reached the all-star break in July hitting .207 with a .688 OPS and 42 hits in 64 games.

Fans were calling on the Twins to replace him. They didn’t, and they were rewarded for it.

In 66 games after the break, he hit .306, had a .377 on-base percentage, slugged .549 and had a .926 OPS. He collected 72 hits and finished with a team-leading 24 home runs.

“It was as good a half of baseball as he has ever had in his career, including that 2019 season,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “A lot of things really came together in a good way. I think a lot of his spring is going to be getting back into his routine he was in in the second half last year.”

So, how does he capture that and carry it forward?

Kepler refreshed over the offseason, spending plenty of time with friends and family. An avid traveler, a highlight of the winter was a trip to Asia, during which he visited Japan (where he saw former teammate Kenta Maeda), the Philippines and Singapore.

Now, he’s back to work.

And much of his success starts with his mindset.

“I found a routine that worked for me. I’m trying to just believe. It’s a game of adversity, and plenty of doubt comes with it,” Kepler said. “If you let that doubt creep in, it’ll break you down real quick. I just try and look at it like, I get four, five at-bats every day. I get to play defense hard and go and back my team up. But make the most of the at-bats and not dwell on a pitch or an at-bat prior. Just stay present and make the most of it while I can.”

The Twins picked up Kepler’s option this offseason after his stellar second half of last season — a decision that would not have seemed so easy just months earlier. It’s the final year of a contract extension that he signed in 2019.

After helping lead the Twins to the postseason, where they finally had a taste of playoff success, Kepler wants more — “the job won’t be done until we go all the way,” he said. But as he embarks on his 10th season as a major leaguer, he’s ready for whatever might come his way.

“I’m going to work my ass off like I always have, give it all I’ve got, try to be the best teammate I can be, and build relationships with the new guys and grow with the old ones,” Kepler said. “As a player who’s been around so long, you get to see different types of waves of people come through here. Staff, players, even reporters, you know. You see a lot of different angles that this business throws at you. You just have to be adjustable.”

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