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Updated: December 4th, 2011 8:14pm
Mackey: For Twins, winter meetings activity could hinge on Cuddyer

Mackey: For Twins, winter meetings activity could hinge on Cuddyer

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

DALLAS -- One Minnesota Twins executive nailed it last week when asked about what the team might hope to accomplish during Major League Baseball's winter meetings over these next few days.

"We've got a lot of work to do."

Even with some offseason optimism surrounding Joe Mauer, and the additions of solid complementary guys like Jamey Carroll and Ryan Doumit, the Twins do have a lot of work to do, starting Monday at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, if they want a fighting chance of finishing above .500 in 2012,

And outfielder Michael Cuddyer appears to be the key domino for a Twins team already tied up for nearly $90 million in guaranteed money, when taking into account estimates for arbitration-eligible players.

All is quiet on the Cuddyer front over the past few weeks following his visit to Philadelphia, but with MLB's new collective bargaining agreement no longer requiring teams to give up their first-round draft pick to sign Cuddyer, and other Type-A free agents, the tire-kicking could be forceful.

The Twins want Cuddyer Back. But they also have other needs. Several of them. And they can't afford to wait long on Cuddyer, who could earn anywhere between $8-12 million annually, depending on the length of the contract.

The Twins do have an offer out to Cuddyer, but it's unclear how recently the two sides last exchanged particulars. The Twins do plan to meet with Cuddyer's agent in Dallas this week, along with the agents for Jason Kubel and Matt Capps, and other free agents.

"We have to be prepared, just in case, so we're certainly keeping our options open and I know Michael is doing the same," general manager Terry Ryan said Friday. "But you have to watch out for when the music stops; you don't want to be left without a chair."

When asked if the Twins could, in theory, re-sign both Cuddyer and Kubel, Ryan hedged, saying, "You could. We need pitching, too. We need offense, I know that."

If Ryan's answer sounds more like a "no" than a "yes," that's because there are strong indications internally that, budget-wise, if the Twins bring back Cuddyer they will only have room to add smaller, cheaper pieces the rest of the way.

Other nuggets

• The Twins' front office is equally, if not more concerned about the health of its starting rotation over 162 games than the production, or potential lack thereof. That's not to say they don't want better production out of Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn and others -- they do. But when looking at potential free-agent and/or trade targets Ryan and company are likely to focus on guys who can eat some innings.

The Star Tribune reported last week the Twins were interested in Chris Capuano, who signed with the Dodgers for $10 million over two years. Capuano, now two seasons removed from Tommy John surgery, threw 186 innings for the Mets while posting a 4.55 ERA and 4.04 FIP.

Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reported the Twins are also interested in Jeff Francis, who posted a 4.82 ERA and 4.10 FIP in 183 innings for the Royals last season, and Edwin Jackson, who has thrown an average of 202 innings over the past four seasons with respectable peripheral numbers.

Carl Pavano threw 222 innings last season -- the 15th-most in baseball -- but no other Twins pitcher threw more than 161 2/3.

• In order to clear more salary room, the Twins would have to either complete a trade or non-tender one of their arbitration-eligible guys. Kevin Slowey, who is set to earn around $3 million through arbitration, is likely the only non-tender candidate on the club, but the Twins don't like the idea of getting nothing in return. They also don't like the idea of trading Slowey, or anyone else, coming off such a down season.

• In 2010, the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players fell before the winter meetings, but this year that deadline has been pushed back to Dec. 12 -- a few days after the meetings end.

This gives teams a chance to discuss trades in Dallas regarding players who are borderline non-tender candidates.

A prime example for the Twins is J.J. Hardy, who sources say was likely to be non-tendered had Baltimore not showed interest in making a deal.

Ryan said he actually prefers the non-tender date to be earlier in the offseason.

"The earlier you can get some answers, the better chance you have of formulating a roster," he said.

• Signs continue to point strongly in the direction of the Twins bringing back Capps on a deal much cheaper than the $7-plus million he made in 2011. This could be a mistake for two reasons:

1.) If Capps signs with another team, the Twins will collect a compensation draft pick.
2.) Capps pitched through forearm and wrist discomfort last season, which took movement off his fastball and made his breaking stuff less consistent. Capps was cleared by the medical staff at the end of the season, but it's fair to wonder whether forearm discomfort is a precursor to something more serious down the road.

"Yeah he was a little sore, but he always took the ball," Ryan said. "He never made excuses. If you listened to that (conference call last week)... people are concerned about us bring back Matt Capps, and I said, 'Well, people have an off year.' He had an off year, as did the club."

• This doesn't have anything to do with the winter meetings necessarily, but on Friday Ryan was asked about the pitcher-friendly dimensions of Target Field, and he provided a very interesting response:

"I'm going to say with no humor involved but some teams came in here and pounded the fences pretty good. We need to get some of that out of our mentality and move forward and just go out there and play the game. If you look at it and you do your Bill James studies and all your sabermetrics, and look at what the oppositions have done at this park, this doesn't play as big as it's stated. Have you looked at some numbers? Because we have."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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