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Updated: December 7th, 2010 6:11pm
Winter meetings notebook: Twins have met with Thome's agent

Winter meetings notebook: Twins have met with Thome's agent

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Minnesota Twins continue to keep a low profile at the winter meetings, which probably comes as little surprise.

General manager Bill Smith did say on Tuesday, however, that he has met with Jim Thome's agent, Pat Rooney.

Smith would not elaborate.

Again, no surprise.

After the Twins were swept by the Yankees in the ALDS, Thome expressed his desire to continue playing in 2011, and Smith followed up in November by telling 1500 ESPN that the Twins plan to pursue the designated hitter.

It remains to be seen whether Thome garners more interest around the league.

Smith also said he has met and will continue to meet with several agents throughout the week. Where that leads to remains to be seen.

Bullpen questions

When asked about how he intended to fill the bullpen void left by the potential departures of Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes, Smith was quick to point out the Twins' in-house options.

The Twins are not currently linked to any big-name relievers.

"Sometimes your best bet, rather than go out and get a third baseman, your best bet is to bring up Valencia and give him a chance," Smith said. "And we always like to do that. We love to bring players out of our system if they can help us win."

He added, "(Glen) Perkins and (Pat) Neshek and (Joe) Nathan are three guys that would be great wild cards for us, because Perkins and Neshek pitched all season in Triple-A, or most of the season in Triple-A, and Nathan not at all."

"So if we can get Nathan back, competitive, to anywhere close to where he was, if we can get Neshek back to where he was several years ago -- and this would be the second year after Tommy John surgery. And Perkins threw the ball well in September, and had some stints of throwing the ball very well in Rochester."

Neshek is lifting weights and doing cardio in Florida and will resume throwing sometime in mid-January. His velocity dipped into the mid-80s near the end of the season, but it wouldn't be surprising if -- because he's further removed from surgery -- the side-winding righty's velocity increased back up to 89 or 90 mph.

The Twins will also take a long look at right-hander Carlos Gutierrez, a first-round draft pick in 2008 who spent most of 2010 at Double-A New Britain. Gutierrez has pitched out of the bullpen and as a starter, but Smith would not reveal what the Twins' plans for him are in 2011.

Gutierrez posted a 4.50 ERA and 1.53 WHIP with 87 strikeouts and 52 walks in 126 innings last year. He did, however, give up only seven home runs and has a reputation as a groundball inducer.

Nathan's progress

Nathan is taking time off from throwing until approximately January, when he will begin the ramping-up process to spring training. According to Smith, Nathan's bullpen role is "100 percent" up to manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson.

"Our projection and our hope at this time is that, however he comes into camp... that he'll come out of spring training ready to pitch in the big leagues, and ready to pitch competitively," Smith said. "That's our goal going forward."

"Joe has done very well through all of his programs, through all of his rehab," Smith added. "I don't know that he's ever had a misstep. We've been through it with other pitchers, where maybe they get ahead of schedule a week and then they have a setback, and now they backup two weeks. I don't know that Joe's ever had a day of a setback, and that's very, very good for us. We're very optimistic about that."

The Twins tendered a contract to Matt Capps, who will likely begin the season as closer. As the year progresses, however, Gardenhire and Anderson could have a difficult decision to make -- keep Capps in the closer role with Nathan as a set-up man, or allow Nathan to go back to his original stopper role?

"I'm sure that Joe Nathan is very competitive," Smith said, "And he wants to be the closer, I'm sure of that."

"Whatever layout they decide with that bullpen, if the manager and pitching coach say, 'This gives us the best chance to win games,' Joe Nathan's a great teammate. He's competitive, and he's going to want to be the closer, Matt Capps is going to want to be the closer, Jon Rauch wanted to be the closer in the second half. But they're also teammates."

Etc.

• The Twins were scheduled to meet with Carl Pavano's agent, Tom O'Connell on Tuesday, and there remains mutual interest on both sides.

• Nothing new to report on the Tsuyoshi Nishioka negotiation front, other than what happened on Monday.

• At one point on Tuesday, the Baltimore Orioles were reportedly on the verge of acquiring shortstop Jason Bartlett from the Tampa Bay Rays for outfielder Nolan Reimold, but that deal has apparently fallen through. If the Orioles don't land Bartlett, it's possible they could turn their attention to Twins shortstop J.J. Hardy.

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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