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Updated: December 10th, 2010 1:21am
Winter meetings recap: A few items remain unchecked

Winter meetings recap: A few items remain unchecked

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Well, that's a wrap.

The 2010 MLB winter meetings ended on Thursday with the Minnesota Twins making a modest splash by trading shortstop J.J. Hardy and infielder Brendan Harris to the Baltimore Orioles for two minor league pitchers.

The Twins also selected left-handed starter Scott Diamond from the Atlanta Braves Triple-A affiliate in the Rule 5 draft.

With that, Twins officials will leave Disney World on Friday with a few items crossed off their checklist.

And a few items left unchecked.

Here's what we know upon emerging from a five-day winter meetings hibernation:

Hardy is gone, and the Casilla era begins (again)

The Twins began dropping hints about a possible revamping of the middle infield as far back as late-October, and with Hardy now out of the picture it appears as if Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka will take over the starting jobs.

Per general manager Bill Smith, the driving force behind trading Hardy was manager Ron Gardenhire's desire for more speed in the lineup.

As for Casilla, he hit .276/.331/.395 in a part-time role for the Twins last season, which is about what he hit during his breakout season in 2008 (.281/.333/.374). Casilla, 26, has been given multiple opportunities to nab a starting middle infield job over the past four seasons, but for various reasons he has not been able to maintain a level of consistency.

This applies to Casilla's defense, too. Along with the spectacular web gems come momentary lapses and untimely mistakes. Overall, his career Ultimate Zone Rating is well below average for a second baseman. And because he has only played a limited number of innings at shortstop -- his likely position in 2011 -- it's unfair to attempt to quantify his defense there.

The Twins are optimistic Casilla's range, speed and growing maturity will translate to a breakout season.

Of course, even if he plays to the top of his projection, Casilla may wind up simply being slightly better than a major-league average shortstop overall.

Hardy, when healthy, was one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball with potential to post an OPS at or above .750.

The key here is that the Twins save themselves from paying Hardy approximately $6 million through arbitration. Casilla's salary won't come anywhere near that.

And they dump Harris' $1.75 million salary while picking up some pitching depth.

While Hardy was likely somewhat undervalued, swapping him for Casilla is unlikely to be a huge season-changer either way.

Nishioka negotiations continue

The Twins met with Nishioka's representatives on Monday, and general manager Bill Smith spent the entire week entertaining the Japanese media.

The word, 'entertaining' is used loosely in this context...

The two sides are reportedly discussing a three-year deal worth anywhere from $9-15 million overall.

Even though Smith said Wednesday that Nishioka's negotiations are "independent" from any other potential moves, it's unlikely the Twins would have traded Hardy if they thought a deal with Nishioka wasn't imminent.

Twins serious about Pavano

Twins executives met with Carl Pavano and his agent, Tom O'Connell, on Tuesday. O'Connell said the meeting went "very well" and added that the Twins were indeed very serious about retaining his client.

Pavano has also met with three other teams, including the Brewers, who reportedly are unlikely to go beyond two years in their offer to the soon-to-be 35-year-old righty.

Pavano was believed to be seeking a Ted Lilly-type deal (three years, $33 million), but it's unclear whether any team will go that high.

It's unlikely Pavano signs anywhere until the Cliff Lee dominos fall.

The vibe at the winter meetings is that the Twins, while serious in their pursuit, are bracing for another team or two to make a better offer to Pavano.

Bullpen situation still unclear

Aside from drafting Diamond in the Rule 5 draft and adding two minor league pitchers in the Hardy deal, the Twins' bullpen situation remains up in the air.

Smith said the team planned to meet with all of their "ranking" free agents, which includes relievers Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes.

Yet, when asked about his bullpen free agency plans this week, Smith consistently brought the conversation back toward in-house options -- Joe Nathan, Pat Neshek, Glen Perkins and others.

As of right now, the only thing the Twins can be certain of is that Matt Capps will close and Jose Mijares will face lefties in the late-innings.

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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