I'm guessing the Twins are going to bring back Jim Thome and that's going to be it as far as significant signings and/or acquisitions between now and the start of exhibition games in late February.
General Manager Bill Smith has been sure to mention "financial limitations'' in recent interviews, and my interpretation is that, when push comes to shove, starting pitcher Carl Pavano is going to wind up elsewhere.
The Twins would like him back, and Pavano would like to stay, but when you're talking the difference between two years, $18-20 million in Minnesota, and three years, $30 million-plus with another club, a pitcher turning 35 on Jan. 8 has to take the bigger deal.
Again, this is only a best guess, but the holdup on Thome could be that the Twins are waiting to see what happens with Pavano. As outstanding as was Thome's contribution during the first season in Target Field, a veteran starting pitcher is clearly a higher priority.
Which means: If they can get Pavano for around $10 million, the Twins might choose to save the $5 million it could cost to bring back Thome. If they were to get both to return for those numbers, that would push the payroll to $130 million.
(Update: At urging of Twins Geek, I looked again at math. If Twins were to bring back Pavano and Thome for combined $15 million, I have the payroll at $121 million for 21 players, with four additional players likely making a combined $2.5.
(Calculation includes hefty raises for Francisco Liriano, Delmon Young and Matt Capps, all offered arbitration - plus one-third of the $5.3 mlllion posting fee paid in order to sign Tsuyoshi Nishioka, which the Twins look at as part of his contract.
(Thus. $130M in original copy was aggressive number. More like $123.5 with both Pavano and Thome, but more likely $113.5 without Pavano).
The most-asked question among Twins' fans lately has been, "What is the plan to reinforce the bullpen?''
This became an issue last week, when Matt Guerrier signed a three-year contract with the L.A. Dodgers and Jesse Crain signed a three-year contract with the rival Chicago White Sox.
The degree of angst among Twins' hardcores over the departures of Guerrier and Crain is interesting, when you remember how they were so often bad-mouthed - particularly Crain and the "Crain Wreck'' slur that was popular in blog world.
On further review, the fans have realized that Guerrier brought durability and competence to the bullpen, and that Crain's phenomenal 3 ½ months last season had much to do with the Twins pulling away from the White Sox.
The Twins might add a veteran for a $1 million or so, but when Smith talks about looking at "internal options'' to rebuild this bullpen, he's serious.
Over the past decade, it seems like I've written half of my Star Tribune columns from spring training about the precarious state of the bullpen, and yet Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson consistently have come up with a workable combination.
A year ago, the Twins lost Joe Nathan in the first exhibition to a torn ligament in his right elbow. The reporters in spring training and the fans back home were insisting that the club had to go outside immediately and find a replacement.
The Twins weren't willing to pay the ransom sought for a closer like San Diego's Heath Bell, and they sifted through those "internal options.'' It was on the flight from Florida to the Twin Cities for exhibitions vs. St. Louis that Gardenhire told Jon Rauch that he would start the season as the closer.
When you're in panic mode over the bullpen this spring, remember this: The Twins opened last season with a bullpen that had Rauch as the closer, Crain, Guerrier, Pat Neshek and rookie Alex Burnett as right-handers, and Brian Duensing and Jose Mijares as lefties. And 10 days into the season, Mijares went on the DL and Ron Mahay became the second lefty.
Duensing was a godsend, before moving to the rotation. Crain was a candidate to be released in mid-May, and then suddenly he was great. The big change in the pen came in July, when the Twins gave catching prospect Wilson Ramos to Washington for closer Matt Capps.
This spring, the Twins will have Capps and presumably Nathan, back from Tommy John surgery. They also will be anticipating a much-improved Mijares, who has pitched in Venezuela this winter after not being allowed to do so by his winter team a year ago. It was the hangover from a feud with his Venezuelan manager.
That leaves four openings, with seven main candidates: RHs-Burnett, Neshek, Jim Hoey, Anthony Slama and Jeff Manship; LHs-Glen Perkins and Scott Diamond.
Hoey is a hard thrower obtained from Baltimore in the J.J. Hardy trade. Manship was mentioned by Bill Smith in a recent interview as a possibility to be a Guerrier-type (working heavy innings). Diamond was drafted from Atlanta at the winter meetings and the Twins are talking him up.
The Twins also have 10 veterans signed as minor league free agents coming to camp and one might be a candidate to make the big-league roster. Chuck James, a lefty and former Braves' starter, missed 2009 with shoulder surgery. He came back in 2010, pitched out of the bullpen in Class AA and had great numbers.
Don't hold your breath waiting for the Twins to make a significant bullpen move. To repeat, the guess here is they will see what Gardenhire and Anderson piece together in Fort Myers before joining the public in a panic.