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Updated: December 14th, 2010 8:18pm
Notebook: Pavano decision coming; Nishioka deal close?

Notebook: Pavano decision coming; Nishioka deal close?

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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The Minnesota Twins could be closing in on finding answers to two key question marks; free agent starting pitcher Carl Pavano and Japanese middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

More on Pavano shortly, but as of Tuesday afternoon the Twins did not have a deal done with Nishioka's representatives. Indications are the two sides are very close, and the two sides have until December 26 to strike a deal.

La Velle E. Neal from the Star Tribune takes the sides-are-close notion to the next level, saying Nisioka is expected to travel to Minnesota before the end of the week for a physical.

If and when Nishioka signs, he will join Alexi Casilla in the starting middle infield. Beyond that, the Twins will look toward Matt Tolbert, Trevor Plouffe and possibly Luke Hughes as backup middle infielders.

There was speculation the Twins were interested in former Cardinals shortstop Brendan Ryan, but he was traded to the Seattle Mariners on Monday. It's possible general manager Bill Smith and company could still be looking around for middle infield depth, but there simply aren't many available options.

If Casilla or Nishioka go down with an injury -- or if one or both of them wind up being unproductive -- do the Twins really trust Tolbert and Plouffe to carry the load?

These are important factors to weigh in the wake of the J.J. Hardy trade.

Pavano decision coming soon?

Now that the Cliff Lee domino has fallen -- for $120 million, courtesy of the Philadelphia Phillies -- Pavano is viewed in many circles as the next-best available pitcher on the market.

Pavano and his agent Tom O'Connell met with four teams at the winter meetings last week, including the Twins. Pavano has also been linked to the Nationals, Brewers and Rangers.

According to O'Connell last week, the meeting with Minnesota was very productive, and the Twins were considered to be very much in the mix to land the soon-to-be 35-year-old righty.

This week, Pavano's camp has been more tight-lipped about specifics, but expect a decision to come down very soon. It's likely Pavano and O'Connell were waiting all along for Lee to sign so the market would become more clear.

The vibe from the Twins' side is that another team may very well offer a better deal, but the club knows Pavano thoroughly enjoyed his time in Minnesota.

More notes

• According to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, Pavano's other suitors believe he will return to the Twins.

• It makes sense to keep an eye on the Rangers, who have an affinity for innings eaters these days -- something Pavano has done a lot of the last two seasons. And considering Texas was potentially on the verge of shelling out $20 million per season on Lee, they likely have money to burn.

• The bullpen situation has not become any clearer. At the meetings, Smith continued to focus attention on in-house options to replace free agents Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch.

Those options include Joe Nathan, who is coming off Tommy John surgery, Pat Neshek, who will be two years removed from the same surgery, Glen Perkins, Anthony Slama, Alex Burnett and others.

One of the potential free agent options was former Toronto right-hander Jeremy Accardo, who just signed a one-year, $1.08 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles.

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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