Inbox: How will the rotation shake out?
Beat reporter Kelly Thesier answers fans' questions
Just a little over two weeks remain until the Twins will officially start Spring Training. And now that TwinsFest is over, all of the focus will be on Feb. 18, when the club's pitchers and catchers hold their first workout.As the snow continues to fall in the Twin Cities and the rest of the Midwest braces for blizzard-like conditions in the coming days, it's sure nice to think that baseball season is right around the corner. With Spring Training quickly approaching, there are a lot of questions on your minds. So let's dive right in to this week's edition of the Twins Inbox ... With the 'stache [Carl Pavano] back, the Twins have six guys for a five-man rotation. Who's the odd man out? The rumors have been Kevin Slowey, but do you have any insider info you can give us on what might happen? Brian Duensing, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker & Carl Pavano seem locks for the rotation. So are Blackburn and Slowey fighting for a rotation spot?
-- Ben T., Overland Park, Kan. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has continued to say that his club has six pitchers competing for five spots, and he's been cautious not to indicate which starters he envisions being in his rotation for the 2011 season. That being said, Pavano and Liriano certainly appear to be locks for the rotation. From there, though, things get a little more interesting. Baker has the most experience of the remaining four starters and Duensing would give the team a second left-handed starter to go along with Liriano. Blackburn and Slowey have both had good stretches during their careers so it's going to be interesting to see how things shake out this spring. It's very possible that whichever starter doesn't make the rotation could be slotted as a long reliever in the bullpen since the Twins have question marks there. Duensing has had success pitching in a relief role, but he's definitely going to have an opportunity to earn a starting job. So it might end up being Blackburn and Slowey competing for that fifth and final spot in the rotation.
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Spring Training will of course be the best gauge of how the rotation will shake out. The Twins expect a healthy competition for the rotation spots and we'll get a better picture of how the starting staff will shake out as we get closer to Opening Day.Are the Twins trying to sign Francisco Liriano to a long-term contract?
-- Jeremy B., Hermitage, Tenn. Liriano and Delmon Young are the Twins' two remaining arbitration-eligible players. Twins general manager Bill Smith doesn't like to speak publicly about contract negotiations, but on Friday he said that for now, the Twins are focused on getting the two players signed for 2011. That doesn't mean that the team won't pursue a long-term contract with either player in the future. It's just that with arbitration hearings nearing -- they occur Feb. 1-18 -- it seems best to get a one-year contract settled with each player before a hearing has to take place. Should we expect the Twins to make any late moves before Spring Training, a la Orlando Hudson and Jim Thome of last year? Or are they more likely to stand pat with the current roster? It seems as though both the bullpen and lineup have taken some hits this offseason that could lead to less depth than the Twins had last year.
-- Cameron O., Tempe, Ariz. The Twins roster certainly looks to be about set heading into Spring Training, as Smith has acknowledged the team is pretty well extended in terms of its budget. The team's payroll is already over the $100 million mark with 17 players officially under contract for 2011. That amount would go up another $9.75 million if the Twins agreed to the midpoint numbers with their two remaining arbitration-eligible players, Liriano and Young, and after all is said and done with the Twins finalizing the other contract amounts, the team is looking at an Opening Day payroll that will likely be somewhere around the $110-115 million mark. Of course, the Twins could always end up making a trade or making a waiver claim, like they did with left-hander Dusty Hughes this past week, but for now it looks like they are pretty content with the options that they've put together for the 2011 season. Yes, there will be question marks, particularly when it comes to the bullpen. But the Twins have brought in a lot of arms this winter to compete for relief spots in Spring Training. So we'll have to see how things unfold down in Fort Myers, Fla. Now that the dust has settled with Jesse Crain, do the Twins think they could have offered him arbitration and gotten a draft pick?
-- Gary T., Sidney, Mont. The Twins did offer arbitration to Crain, who was a Type B free agent, so they will get a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft as compensation for his departure. The Twins will get a total of two sandwich picks in this year's Draft since they also offered arbitration to second baseman Orlando Hudson, who signed with the Padres this winter. The only other free agent the Twins offered arbitration to was Pavano. Are the Twins interested in signing Troy Glaus? He can play either third base or first base and is a good power hitter.
-- Chuck D., Rochester, Minn. After the Twins signed Thome, the possibility of the club perhaps pursuing another bat for their bench seemed to dwindle. The Twins are expected to once again go with a four-man bench and so far that would appear to be Thome, backup catcher Drew Butera, backup outfielder Jason Repko and a backup utility infielder that most likely will be Matt Tolbert. So that doesn't really leave room to add another backup infielder. There was also a report this past weekend that Glaus is thinking about not playing this season -- at least not at the start of it. So it doesn't appear to be a match for now. Given the Twins limited bench, is there any possibility that Thome could be asked to play the role of emergency first baseman? I read that he didn't even have a glove in his locker last season. Having a player who used be an everyday first baseman never see the field in any situation seems like a direct contrast to the Twins' way.
-- Mark N., Sioux Falls, S.D. Due to the back problems Thome has battled, the veteran slugger has been limited to only a DH or pinch-hitting role in recent years and all signs are that it will stay that way in 2011. Thome has not worked out in the field since arriving with the Twins and you are correct that he did not even have a first baseman's glove in his locker last year. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has been cautious in how he uses Thome in order to keep those back problems from flaring up and the last thing that he wants to do is have Thome test his back by playing a position in the field again. Michael Cuddyer will be an option to back up first base if needed and you can pretty much count on only seeing Thome at the plate for the Twins.