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Updated: December 2nd, 2012 4:59pm
Mackey: Twins unlikely to deal Willingham; focus is on FAs at meetings

Mackey: Twins unlikely to deal Willingham; focus is on FAs at meetings

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

NASHVILLE -- Minnesota Twins executives and staffers arrived to the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center on Sunday morning for baseball's annual winter meetings.

For general manager Terry Ryan and company, it could be one of the busier weeks in recent team history.

Here's what's brewing for the Twins with the winter meetings set to begin on Monday:

• Despite several teams being interested, the Twins feel strongly about holding onto 33-year-old outfielder Josh Willingham, who enters the second year of a three-year, $21 million contract. Even if Willingham regresses from his career season last year, it's very possible his power at only $7 million is worth more than what the Twins could get in return. One American League executive speculated earlier this offseason if the Twins traded Willingham they'd be able to land "Maybe a No. 3 (starter) if the guy is making some money. Most likely a No. 4." The executive added Willingham's age, injury history and poor defense at an easy-to-find position all contribute to lowering his trade value. The Twins could perhaps trade Willingham for a minor leaguer with upside (see: Span-for-Meyers), but that would mean throwing in the towel for 2013. So, the plan is to hold onto him, barring a team stepping in with an offer the Twins can't refuse.

• With Denard Span's departure, the Twins have approximately $70 million tied up in guaranteed contracts for 2013. Twins higher-ups have not tipped their hand as to what the payroll ceiling is, but assuming it lies somewhere between $90 million and $95 million, that leaves plenty of money to spend on at least two free agent starting pitchers.

• General manager Terry Ryan has made it clear he will spend most of, if not all of, the remaining budget on pitching. Scott Diamond remains the only starter penciled into next year's rotation.

• The Twins plan to focus much more on free agents than trades in Nashville now that their most valuable trade asset, Span, is off the table.

• The Twins have been in contact with representatives for nearly every free agent starting pitcher on the market. One name to keep an eye on is left-hander John Lannan, who was non-tendered by the Washington Nationals last week. According to league sources, Lannan, 28, is likely to be a popular name among teams looking for starting pitching depth, including the Twins. Lannan owns a 4.01 career ERA in 783 2/3 innings in the National League, striking out a Nick Blackburn-esque 4.7 batters per nine innings while walking 3.4 per nine. But he has maintained one of the best groundball rates of any pitcher over that span.

• Another potential low-cost option to keep an eye on is Brett Myers, who has expressed interest in returning to a starting role after pitching exclusively out of the bullpen last year. The Twins were in communication with Myers' agent in November. Myers, 32, averaged 219 innings as a starter for the Houston Astros in 2010 and 2011, posting a collective ERA of 3.78 with a 3.90 FIP.

• The Star Tribune reported last week the Twins have spoken with Francisco Liriano's agent about possibly bringing the enigmatic left-hander back for next year. Considering the Twins' need for pitching, and considering Liriano probably won't command a large salary, a reunion wouldn't be shocking. But according to league sources, there were multiple skeptics in the Twins organization who wanted Liriano traded at his peak, after his post-surgery breakout season of 2010. If multiple people in the organization didn't have faith in Liriano after 2010, does it really make sense to rekindle the flame?

• Ryan did speak with the Miami Marlins prior to a trade that sent Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes to the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this month. But the belief internally is the Twins need more than just one Mark Buehrle, who stands to make $48 million over the next three years in his mid-30's. Johnson is owed $13.75 million in 2013, then he hits free agency.

• Don't bother getting your hopes up for Zack Greinke, who is expected to sign a multi-year deal worth at least $15-20 million per year. Yes, the Twins have money to spend -- maybe even $20 million -- but the belief is they need more than just one big piece. Plus, Greinke met face-to-face with the Dodgers and Angels last week -- two playoff contenders with more money to offer due to gaudy TV revenue streams. The Rangers and Nationals also have expressed serious interest according to reports.

• Right-hander Jair Jurrjens was perhaps the most notable non-tender last week. Jurrjens, 26, has been hampered by various injuries over the past few years, mostly lower-body. But he did post a 3.40 ERA in five seasons, mostly with the Braves, between 2007 and 2011 before blowing up in 2012. Jurrjens could be an interesting buy-low candidate.

• Age is a strong consideration for the Twins when looking at free agents and other possible acquisitions.

Trevor Plouffe is currently the starting third baseman on paper, but the Twins would like to add (inexpensive) competition. Minnesota native and defensive wiz Jack Hannahan might be a fit, but he turns 33 in March. Hannahan was non-tendered by the Indians last week.

• The Twins enter Nashville with four open slots on the 40-man roster.

• The Twins have the fourth pick in Thursday's Rule-5 draft. Two years ago, the Twins selected Diamond in the Rule-5 draft. To keep Diamond in the system, the Twins eventually sent right-handed reliever Billy Bullock to Atlanta at the end of spring training. Johan Santana also found his way into the Twins' system via the Rule-5 draft.

• Several Twins players are taking a wait-and-see approach following the Span-for-Alex-Meyer trade. Players want to compete for a playoff position in 2013, and Meyer's expected time of arrival in the major leagues likely isn't until at least August, and probably not until 2014.

• As it stands, Willingham, Ben Revere and Chris Parmelee are the Twins' three starting outfielders -- not exactly a defensive juggernaut in the corners, but finding regular at-bats for Parmelee could provide an offensive boost.

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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