Twins meet with Pavano, search for bullpen cast

Twins meet with Pavano, search for bullpen cast

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Through the first two days of the Winter Meetings, things have been relatively quiet surrounding the Twins as the club continues to meet with agents while trying to determine how to best fill its holes.

One specific meeting that took place for the Twins on Tuesday at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort was with Carl Pavano and his agent, Tom O'Connell.

Pavano traveled from West Palm Beach, Fla., to meet with a total of four teams. O'Connell said that the meeting with the Twins was productive but that there is no hurry for his client to get a deal completed.

"We're being very methodical about this and we're going to take our time," O'Connell said. "We're going to evaluate every opportunity before we make a decision."

There has been mutual interest between the Twins and Pavano, and Twins general manager Bill Smith told reporters on Monday that he believes it's still a possibility that Pavano could return to the club.

The Twins seem unlikely to join in a bidding war for Pavano, who is believed to be seeking a three-year deal. But Smith indicated there are other reasons to think that the starter could possibly end up back in Minnesota.

"Players who have made lots of money in this game, I think, have maybe different priorities than younger players who may be getting the first crack at [free agency]," Smith said. "Where they play, the manager, the coaches, the teammates, the facilities, the living conditions, the travel, the fans, a winning atmosphere -- I think there are a lot of factors that go though [a player's mind] and I think veteran players weigh them differently than young players."

Smith added: "I know that Carl Pavano loves playing in Minnesota. He's enjoyed it over the last year and a half, and I think that's a factor for him."

Whether or not the Twins can re-sign Pavano could affect how they address one of their other biggest areas of need -- the bullpen. With the possibility that as many as four key contributors from last year's relief crops could depart via free agency, the Twins face the possibility of having to fill a number of spots in that bullpen.

Smith has said throughout the offseason that his team will explore various ways to fill those spots in the bullpen. But how much the Twins will use the free-agent market to find solutions for some of those holes remains to be seen.

When asked to characterize the relief market on Tuesday, Smith described it as being competitive, citing the fact that nearly all of the 30 teams are seeking bullpen help. And it appears it could be costly for those currently seeking relief help on the open market, thanks in large part to the deal that Joaquin Benoit signed earlier this offseason with Detroit for three years, $16.5 million.

"The market is certainly a high market," Smith said.

Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain, two of the Twins' free agents, are among the relievers on the market who are drawing interest from a number of teams. The Twins appear to have interest in bringing perhaps one of the two pitchers back, but with the way the market is unfolding, the club might not be willing to meet the asking price.

With so many question marks surrounding the bullpen, Smith was asked Tuesday if it's important for his club to bring in some veteran relievers in order to provide some stability to the group for next season.

"You'd love to have seven known quantities in the bullpen that you can go get at any time in any role," Smith said. "Sometimes it doesn't work that way. Sometimes, rather than go out and get [someone], your best bet is to bring up [a guy like Danny] Valencia like we did last season and give him a chance. We love to bring players out of our system if they can help us win."

Smith mentioned a number of internal relief candidates that the Twins have within their system, including some of the Minor League free agents the club has signed, and he also referenced three "wild cards" that could be tremendous assets in relief next season: Joe Nathan, Pat Neshek and Glen Perkins.

Nathan missed the entire 2010 season following Tommy John surgery and the right-hander is on track to be ready for Spring Training. Smith said that all of the reports on Nathan's progress from the surgery have been positive and he remains on schedule with his recovery.

"Our projection and our hope at this time is 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."

Neshek and Perkins both spent the majority of the 2010 season at Triple-A Rochester but the club has high hopes that both can deliver comeback seasons. Neshek will be entering his second season coming back from Tommy John surgery and Perkins showed promise in his late season callup.

The Twins have been linked to a few free-agent relievers. There was a FOXSports.com report on Tuesday morning that the Twins were one of seven teams to check in on Rich Harden.

Over the first two days of the Meetings, Smith said he has been meeting with a number of agents and he confirmed that the club has touched base with Jim Thome's agent, Pat Rooney. Thome recently expressed that he'd like to play for two more years. The Twins have repeatedly expressed their interest in bringing back the veteran slugger.

As for the club's contract negotiations with Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, there were reports that the two sides had exchanged contract offers on Monday but it's not believed that the two sides had met again by early Tuesday evening. Indications are that Nishioka is seeking a three-year deal in the range of $3-5 million a year. Although the Twins have until 11 p.m. CT on Dec. 26 to complete a deal with Nishioka, the club looks like it's trying to get a contract in place much sooner than that which would allow them to turn their focus to other needs.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Kelly's Corner and follow her on Twitter at kellythesier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.