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Updated: December 17th, 2011 12:21am
Pitching is Twins' top priority, but Jason Kubel not ruled out yet

Pitching is Twins' top priority, but Jason Kubel not ruled out yet

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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As this week came to a close, the Minnesota Twins pushed through a free-agency bottleneck by officially announcing the signing of Josh Willingham while simultaneously parting ways with Michael Cuddyer.

With the payroll sitting close to $96 million, the Twins have room for only one or two more moves -- at least in the context of a $100 million end figure, give or take.

What will those moves be?

On Friday, in an interview with 1500 ESPN, assistant general manager Rob Antony said "the door is still open for Jason (Kubel) to re-sign," but he emphasized that "pitching is a priority."

"Obviously we're bumping close to where we'd like to be, or where we think we should be in terms of payroll," Antony said. "We would love to get a starter, and if that doesn't work we'd love to get a good, quality reliever that we can plug into the middle of the seventh, eighth inning-type thing. Anything to do to try and bolster our pitching staff I think would be a positive for us.

"(That's) not to say Jason would be a luxury, because if we got him I think we'd be able to roll out a really good lineup -- a good mixture of righties and lefties. ...

"If there's a way to get that done, we'd like to explore it. But it would have to work for both sides. And at the same time we are looking for pitching, and so trying to maneuver and piece that together will be a bit of a challenge."

The Twins went into the offseason hoping to keep either Cuddyer or Kubel, knowing that it was unlikely they'd wind up keeping both.

"The more conversations we had the more it became apparent that we weren't really close to being able to get anything done with either one of those guys," Antony said. "And at the same time Willingham was willing to sign for what we thought were fair numbers, and a deal that we thought was beneficial to both sides. So it gets to a certain point where if you don't think you can get a deal done with one of those other guys, you don't want to lose out on a guy that you probably like and think is a very similar player to the other two."

As it stands, Antony said the Twins are currently putting "as much time and energy and effort as we can" into pitching options, which will likely be limited to fourth or fifth starter-types.

"I think we're probably a little more focused on a guy who can give us a quality start, give us a chance."

After that, if there's room for Kubel the Twins will entertain that possibility, but a re-signing would likely hinge on the 29-year-old outfielder dropping his asking price.

"I guess the first thing we would need to know is if he wanted to come back, or if the numbers were different than from what we had discussed before (earlier in the offseason), or different than what he was looking for before," Antony said. "Because if not, it's a moot point."

Prior to the 2011 season the Twins exercised Kubel's option, which earned him $5.25 million, and he currently seeks a multi-year deal.

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
In this story: Michael Cuddyer
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