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Updated: January 3rd, 2012 10:32pm
Mackey: Twins narrowing down search for free-agent bullpen options

Mackey: Twins narrowing down search for free-agent bullpen options

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

With the team payroll sitting right around $97 million, the Minnesota Twins still have some breathing room underneath their self-imposed $100 million comfort zone.

The team hopes to use that remaining money to find bullpen help -- preferably right-handed, since Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing already project to be solid options from the left side.

General manager Terry Ryan spoke with the agent for 34-year-old right-hander Dan Wheeler on Tuesday, but according to one major league source the Twins have "a couple" pitchers higher up on their list.

The Twins have told Wheeler's camp to stay in touch, but his situation is similar to that of other free-agent, mid-inning relief pitchers (sixth- and seventh-inning guys) who seek guaranteed major-league contracts.

Several teams are currently trying to lock up some of these relievers -- and starters, such as Carlos Silva -- to non-guaranteed minor league deals worth approximately $1 million (prorated) should they eventually crack the 25-man roster.

Among right-handed relievers, one baseball executive believes Chad Qualls and Scott Linebrink are likely to land guaranteed major league deals.

It would also seem feasible that Todd Coffey and Shawn Camp could land major league deals as well, whereas Wheeler, Clay Hensley, Juan Cruz, Michael Wuertz and others could be on the borderline, but that's purely an educated guess.

Joel Zumaya threw a bullpen session for several teams last month, including the Twins, but coming off a major arm injury he is likely to sign a minor league deal too.

According to the baseball executive, some teams in need of bullpen help "may be laying in the weeds and may get good deals over the next month."

Indications are the Twins have no set timetable for when they will sign a reliever. They have the ability to wait for the right price point.

Wheeler, specifically, could come off the board as soon as a team steps up and offers a guaranteed major league contract, although there are some mild concerns around the league about September forearm stiffness. The Pittsburgh Pirates have recently shown interest in the right-hander, but one baseball person indicated GM Neal Huntington is not currently prepared to offer a guaranteed major league contract.

As of right now the back end of the Twins' bullpen will include right-hander Matt Capps in the closer role along with left-handers Brian Duensing and Glen Perkins, but the other four spots are up for grabs.

The front office is optimistic -- or maybe hopeful is a better word -- about right-handers Alex Burnett and Anthony Swarzak. The club likes Burnett's stuff and club officials believe he has a higher ceiling than many of his peers, and they like Swarzak for his bulldog mentality and willingness to pitch all the time.

Beyond that, right-handers Esmerling Vazquez, Lester Oliveros and Kyle Waldrop are the other three in-house relievers most likely to land a 25-man roster spot in spring training.

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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