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01/12/11 5:12 PM EST
Twins have options if they can't re-sign Thome
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins have not hid their desire to re-sign Jim Thome this winter, but with about five weeks remaining until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, the question still remains as to whether the club will be able to do that. Thome certainly had a strong impact on the Twins in 2010. He led the team with 25 home runs and batted .283 with 59 RBIs in 108 games. And thanks to his production at the plate, Thome helped ease the loss of Justin Morneau to a season-ending concussion in July. Considering that Thome is sitting 11 home runs away from 600 for his career and he was a leader and a mentor inside the team's clubhouse, it's no surprise that the Twins are interested in bringing back the 40-year-old slugger. Thome has also expressed his interest in returning to Minnesota. But the Twins have competition when it comes to Thome's services, and that includes the Rangers, who emerged this week as a serious suitor for him. With the Twins working to re-sign starter Carl Pavano, the club could be limited on the amount of money it has to spend on an extra bat off the bench. And while the team has remained hopeful that it can re-sign Thome, it's unclear whether it will compete with what other teams may be offering him. Last year, the Twins were able to lock up Thome on a one-year, $1.5 million deal, but they know that he won't come as cheaply this time around. It's been reported that Thome's camp took notice when Lance Berkman signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Cardinals. The Twins have an everyday designated hitter in Jason Kubel, yet they are well aware that having depth is important. It was the case last season when the Twins relied heavily on Thome's production with Morneau injured. So if Thome decides to sign elsewhere this winter, what other options might be available for the Twins to fill the role as a bat off the bench? Besides Thome, Vladimir Guerrero appears to be one of the top designated-hitter options on the current free-agent market. A return to the Rangers for Guerrero has been ruled out following Texas' acquisition of third baseman Adrian Beltre, and there are a few teams that have reportedly expressed interest in Guerrero, including the Angels, his former team, and the Rays. So far nothing has linked the Twins with Guerrero, but the team could be looking for a right-handed bat to mix in with its currently lefty-heavy lineup. Still, with the Twins appearing to be seeking out relatively inexpensive options, Guerrero might not be the right fit. Manny Ramirez is also another right-handed DH that's available, although he doesn't seem to fit the typical Twins profile. But while the Twins have targeted Thome all offseason, the club might choose to look for players who could provide a bat and also play the field if it can't re-sign the veteran slugger. When the Twins signed Thome to a one-year, $1.5 million contract with incentives last January, the club acknowledged that the signing wasn't exactly what it had been targeting. The Twins had been looking for a right-handed bat with the ability to perhaps back up in the outfield or to spell Morneau at first base. Instead, the club took the opportunity to sign Thome, a veteran left-handed bat who it felt could provide a strong presence both at the plate and in the clubhouse. All expectations have been that Morneau will be ready to go for the start of Spring Training in mid-February. Still, if Thome signs elsewhere, the Twins could seek out a right-handed bat that could back up at first base. The Twins have used Michael Cuddyer as the backup at first base the last two seasons, and it could make sense for them to add a little depth there. Two options currently on the free-agent market that would fill the need of a right-handed bat and a backup at first base would be Jorge Cantu and Troy Glaus. Cantu, who turns 27 this month, has batted .272 in his career against lefties and could fill in at first base or third base. Glaus, 34, played primarily first base for the Braves last season and batted .240 in 128 games for Atlanta. Glaus is a career .273 hitter vs. lefties, although both he and Cantu batted .234 against them in 2010. Of course, the Twins could always allocate the money they might spend on Thome to address other needs such as bullpen help. But for now, the Twins' focus is on trying to re-sign Thome, and they still appear hopeful they can bring back the slugger who provided so many memorable moments in Target Field's inaugural season.