Notebook: Twins likely done making significant moves this offseason
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Unlike in the previous two offseasons, there will be no over-promising and under-delivering by the Minnesota Twins in 2013.
General manager Terry Ryan and company seem to have learned their lesson about such false optimism after losing nearly 200 games combined over the last two campaigns.
But in the absence of talk about returning to the top of the American League Central -- a place the Detroit Tigers currently reside, with what appears to be a lengthy lease -- what exactly is the goal for 2013?
"We've got to start being realistic," Ryan said Monday on 1500 ESPN's Talkin' Twins show. "And realistic is, in September, (playing) meaningful games. You talk about winning the division -- well, we all want to do that. Postseason, we all want to do that.
"But coming off the amount of losses that we've had... There was a day back in the mid-90's, late-90's when we talked about where exactly we wanted to be. Playing major league baseball in September when the games don't mean a thing, that's no good for anybody. We need to get to that point before we can start worrying about much of anything else."
Ryan's mention of the late-90's seems to fit with the plan he has executed this offseason -- trading from an outfield surplus to acquire talented young pitching. The Twins dealt two talented centerfielders, Denard Span and Ben Revere, for a total of three starting pitchers -- 25-year-old Vance Worley, 23-year-old Alex Meyer and 23-year-old Trevor May.
Along with 26-year-old Scott Diamond, 23-year-old Liam Hendriks and eventually 25-year-old Kyle Gibson -- who will be on an innings limit -- it's obvious Ryan is hoping to build a deep starting rotation of pitchers who are entering their primes.
That plan will ideally lead the Twins back to relevance, but it might take a year to reap the full pitching benefits. In the meantime, rather than overspending on the Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson types, Ryan has elected to bridge the gap in 2013 with veteran sinkerballers Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey, who might not join the rotation until May as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Ryan also signed former strikeout artist Rich Harden to a minor league deal.
Twins pitchers and catchers are set to report to spring training in one month from Thursday, and from the sound if it no more big offseason moves are coming.
"I think we've fortified the pitching staff," Ryan said. "You look at this team and I think we scored enough runs. We have enough defense, even with the loss of Revere and Span. So we're getting somewhat close to the point where we're ready to go and sort this out a little bit (at spring training)."
As of right now, the Twins' 2013 payroll sits at approximately $80 million.
Harden a reliever?
The Twins are hoping Harden's tryout will last longer than the last oft-injured pitcher they brought in, Joel Zumaya, who blew out his arm within the first two weeks of spring training last year.
Harden, 31, owns a 3.76 career ERA while striking out more than a batter per inning, but shoulder injuries have prevented him from pitching more than 128 innings in a season since 2004.
Harden is rarely healthy, but his arm is special -- even after his latest surgery last year.
The Twins would prefer to use him as a starter, but Ryan said bullpen is a realistic option for Harden, who has made 10 career relief appearances in the big leagues.
"He has done both," Ryan said. "And I would tell you starter if the health issue was not a part of this thing, but he's not been healthy. So we have to keep that option open."
With Harden's role up in the air, and Gibson and Pelfrey both coming back from Tommy John surgery, Ryan said he will observe spring training competitions with "no preconceived ideas" about who will make the team.
Competition for Plouffe?
Aside from acquiring starting pitching, one of the Twins' secondary goals earlier this offseason was to bring in competition for third baseman Trevor Plouffe, whom Ryan is hoping can show more consistency at the plate and a more reliable glove on defense.
The Twins were optimistic about landing Minnesota native Jack Hannahan, but he ultimately signed a two-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds.
There are other free agent options available, such as Brandon Inge, but it appears the Twins may be content allowing in-house options to push Plouffe.
"We've got a little competition for him, because I'm of the opinion that we like (Mark) Sobolewski some, and we like Deibinson Romero some, and between (Eduardo) Escobar. I didn't bring (Miguel) Sano in because I didn't think he was quite ready. But he's one of those guys we have high hopes for. ...
"If I find a guy that I think is going to come in here and give us an opportunity to possibly make this team or be certainly at the Triple-A level, we'll certainly go get him. But there is a little competition over there for Trevor, and I'm hoping he responds and doesn't have to about anything but himself."
Sobolewski, acquired from the Blue Jays' system, is a slick-fielding third baseman with pop who rarely gets on base. In 479 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A last season, Sobolewski hit .249/.286/.432 with 20 home runs and 21 doubles.
Romero hit .267/.356/.441 with 19 home runs as a 25-year-old for Double-A New Britain last year.
A little more new school
The Twins won't fool anyone into thinking they are among baseball's early adopters for statistical analysis, but they have taken strides since Ryan's last stint as GM.
As opposed to five or 10 years ago, for instance, Ryan now runs every personnel move by the team's manager of baseball research, Jack Goin, who manages the team's Pitch F/X database among other tools.
"I don't think I'd make a trade without throwing it past Jack," Ryan said. "And whether I agree with him or not, I will give him his due and let him give input from his point of view. Back when I was over at the Metrodome in '07, we did a lot of stat work, but it wasn't with the depth that he certainly provides for us. It's different. And he's got some statistical things that I don't believe in, and he's got a lot of things that I do believe in.
"The other good thing is Jack is also an evaluator, so he understands the human element. And we had plenty going around down there in that Nashville suite (at the winter meetings) -- 'OK, Jack, what do you think?' He gives us his input, and some guys don't believe it and some do. But he is an integral part of this baseball operation. I don't think I'd do a thing on a trade scenario or a free agent acquisition without giving him his due on exactly what he thinks."