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Updated: July 31st, 2012 10:54pm
Mackey: Twins GM Terry Ryan 'not banking on free agency' this winter

Mackey: Twins GM Terry Ryan 'not banking on free agency' this winter

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by Phil Mackey

MINNEAPOLIS -- An hour after standing pat at the non-waiver trade deadline, Terry Ryan was asked how close his team is from competing for a division title in 2013 and how he might go about improving the roster.

Ryan's answer will make many fans cringe.

"We have holes. And some of it is pitching," the Minnesota Twins' general manager said. "And some of it is not. There are other areas we need to address.

"As you know, I don't worry too much about the payroll. We had all kinds of money this year and we didn't get it done. It's not a payroll issue. It's personnel and making sure we put the right people in the right place.

"Some of it will be injury. Some of it would be chemistry and some of it is execution. We've cracked in a few areas this year."

He added, "I'm not banking on free agency, to be honest. If you keep banking on free agency, you'll end up chasing your tail. This is not going to be a free agency approach. This is going to be no shortcuts and doing the job the way it's supposed to be done. And that's usually that's with young, development, scouting and picking the right people."

It's entirely too early to start designing an offseason blueprint, but at some point the Twins -- under Ryan's guidance -- must choose a path for 2013.

They'll either rebuild or reload.

In either case, the main need is pitching. Namely starting pitching.

Payroll breakdown

The payroll was close to $100 million at the beginning of this past April. As it stands, the Twins will likely be tied up for approximately $76 million heading into the offseason:

Joe Mauer -- $23 million
Justin Morneau -- $14 million
Josh Willingham -- $7 million
Nick Blackburn -- $5.5 million
Denard Span -- $4.75 million
Jamey Carroll -- $3.75 million
Ryan Doumit -- $3.5 million
Glen Perkins -- $2.5 million
Jared Burton -- $1.5 million (estimate)
Brian Duensing -- $500,000
Drew Butera -- $500,000
Alex Burnett -- $500,000
Scott Diamond -- $500,000
Brian Dozier -- $500,000
Darin Mastroianni -- $500,000
Chris Parmelee -- $500,000
Trevor Plouffe -- $500,000
Ben Revere -- $500,000
Liam Hendriks -- $500,000
Anthony Swarzak -- $500,000
5 others at $500,000 each

The roughly $76 million figure does not count Alexi Casilla ($1.8 million last year), who could be non-tendered this offseason, but it does count Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who is owed $3 million. Carl Pavano ($8.5 million), Scott Baker ($6.5 million), Jason Marquis ($3 million) and Matt Capps ($250,000 buyout) all come off the books.

Even though Ryan doesn't "worry too much about the payroll," the Twins would still have $15 million to $20 million (in annual value) to spend in free agency if the Pohlads green-light a decreased payroll somewhere between $90 and $95 million (because of falling revenues).

The question is, are those "holes" Ryan speaks of fixable with $15 million to $20 million this winter?

All about pitching

The majority of the hitters that make up the core of the Twins lineup -- Mauer (29 years old), Morneau (31), Willingham (33), Span (28) and Doumit (31) -- are in the prime of their careers, and it's an offense that has emerged as one of the highest-scoring units in baseball since April.

For the offense, the window to win is now. And Perkins teamed with Burton is good foundation for a solid bullpen.

But Ryan's comments were pointed: "This is not going to be a free agency approach."

If the Twins were to jump into the free-agent starting pitcher market, there are several potential viable options between the ages of 28 and 32, at various price ranges, including Zack Greinke, Dan Haren ($15.5 million club option), Gavin Floyd ($9.5 million club option), Edwin Jackson, Brandon McCarthy (arm issues), Jake Peavy ($22 million club option), Anibal Sanchez, Ervin Santana ($13 million club option) and even Francisco Liriano. There might be others.

With all due respect to Sam Deduno, Cole De Vries, Blackburn, Duensing, Liam Hendriks and P.J. Walters, one could argue the Twins need at least one, and probably two pitchers from the above free-agent list to have a chance at competing in the American League Central next season. The only reliable starter currently under contract with the Twins for next season is Diamond.

The only other win-now option is to trade a position player (perhaps Willingham, Morneau or Span) for a quality major-league starter, as long as that move doesn't simultaneously deplete the offense too much. With Morneau, the Twins could have a viable replacement in Parmelee, who entered Wednesday hitting .349/.468/.628 in 36 games for Triple-A Rochester.

But if Ryan holds true to his words and decides against jumping into the free agent starting pitching pool this winter, there's a good chance the Twins are effectively punting the 2013 season.

High and low

On Tuesday, Ryan said he doesn't necessarily need major league-ready starting pitching in return in any potential trade.

"All the way (down the system)," Ryan said. "We didn't have any opposition to take players in A-ball. We never have. We made a lot of trades through the years just taking A-ball players and bringing them back. We've had a lot of success in that route.

"It wouldn't have hindered us taking an A-ball player. That's not exactly the ideal, I can tell you that. There's a lot of space between Class A and getting to the big leagues. A lot of things can happen. But if you've got evaluators out there telling you there's a high ceiling guy in A-ball, especially what you're looking for, I don't think we'd back off just because of their status in A-ball."

Again, that sounds like rebuilding.

If the Twins elect to keep the core of their lineup intact, they must spend money on free-agent starting pitching this offseason.

If Ryan feels there are too many holes to fix with the allotted budget -- a dollar amount that will remain a mystery until probably October -- the Twins should trade Morneau, Willingham or Span, or all three, to maximize the return and expedite the building process.

Those three players likely have the most trade value based on their solid production, and also their team-friendly contracts in the cases of Willingham ($7 million per year) and Span ($4.75 million in 2013, $6.5 million in 2014).

Holding onto Willingham, Morneau and Span while also avoiding the free-agent staring pitcher market would be far too passive, and likely a huge mistake.

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