Mailbag: Do Twins want Japan stars?

Mailbag: Do Twins want Japan stars?

MINNEAPOLIS -- It's hard to believe that 2008 is about to come to an end, but with it comes the final mailbag of the year. The mailbag will return again on Monday, Jan. 5.

Another year has passed -- it seems like just yesterday we were discussing possible destinations for Johan Santana and how the Twins might fare without him. Well, those questions have all been answered, but there are certainly plenty more that are bound to arise with the start of the '09 season quickly approaching.

Before you start looking too far ahead, I just wanted to say thanks for another great year of the mailbag. It's your questions which make doing this mailbag so enjoyable. Have a wonderful holiday season and many great wishes for a wonderful New Year!

What are the chances of the Twins signing the two Japanese pitchers, Kenshin Kawakami and Koji Uehara?
-- Brandon M., Valley City, Minn.

During a radio show last week, assistant general manager Rob Antony acknowledged that the Twins have been in contact with the agent for a couple of free-agent Japanese pitchers. Those pitchers are believed to be Kawakami and Uehara, both of whom are 33 years old. But the Twins are far from the only team interested in them.

Kawakami, who went 9-5 with a 2.30 ERA for the Chunici Dragons last season, seems to be a bit of a reach for the Twins. He's a starter and has drawn the interest of teams with more pressing needs in their rotations, such as the Braves, Mets, Orioles and Angels. The Twins already have their rotation set with five young pitchers they really like. But the team likely has inquired about him in case they need to move one of those starters in a trade.

Uehara looks to better fit the Twins' needs as he could enter the Major Leagues in a relief role rather than as a starter. He went 6-5 with a 3.81 ERA for the Yomiuri Giants this past season, splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen. He is a two-time winner of the Sawamura Award, which is the Japanese equivalent to the Cy Young Award. Uehara reportedly possesses a superior split-finger fastball and set a team saves record in 2007. Among those interested in Uehara are the Orioles, Rangers and Cardinals.

While there have been inquiries about the two Japanese arms, the market for either pitcher has yet to really heat up. So it could be some time before it is known which teams are in the lead for their services.

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It looks like the Red Sox really are still going after Mark Teixeira, despite saying otherwise. If they get him, it is rumored that they will then shift Kevin Youkilis to third and look to trade Mike Lowell. Now, if all that happens, what is the possibility of the Twins trading for Lowell? He seems like, if he is not too expensive, he might be a good fit at third.
-- Dan R., Centerville, Minn.

There were rumors last offseason when Lowell was a free agent that the Twins were interested in him, but his pricetag was too high. If the Red Sox decide to move Lowell, it could allow the Twins another opportunity at the third baseman. But there are now a few more question marks surrounding Lowell, who turns 35 on Feb. 24. He is coming off hip surgery and carries a hefty contract, as he's guaranteed $24 million over the next two seasons. So Lowell likely would have to show this spring that he's healthy enough to play before any team takes a chance on him in a trade.

That means that if the Red Sox do wind up with Teixeira in their lineup, they might not be able to move Lowell until after the start of Spring Training. Depending on whether the Red Sox might be willing to eat up some of Lowell's salary and how much they might ask in return for the third baseman, perhaps the Twins could eventually try to acquire him. But it's still a big question mark right now as to whether they would try to do that.

With the Twins looking to upgrade at third base, have they talked at all with Joe Crede? The former White Sox third baseman hits for a decent average, and should be good for 20-25 home runs. He has had some injury problems which should bring down his asking price -- possibly putting him within the Twins' price rage -- and he plays above average defense. Wouldn't he be a good fit for the Twins? Why haven't we heard his name thrown around as a third-base option?
-- Nicholas S., Oyens, Iowa

I got numerous e-mails this week asking about the Twins' interest in Crede. So far, I have not heard his name mentioned by anyone as being a player that they might target. Part of the reason for that might be that he's a Scott Boras client. The Twins have not had much luck in attracting Boras' free agents to Minnesota, likely in part due to their reduced payroll.

This situation could be slightly different with Crede, though; he might have to settle for a one-year contract due to the injury question marks regarding his back. Crede knows that if he can put together a stellar '09 season, then it might help him to get a large, multiyear contract on the open market next offseason. But the Fieldturf at the Metrodome might not be the ideal place for Crede to try to do that, because of the wear and tear it takes on a player. So right now, I still can't see the Twins ending up with Crede at third.

Where has Luke Hughes gone? I haven't seen his name in any box score for the Tigres de Aragua in the Venezuelan Winter League for a while now. Is he hurt, or has he been recalled and replaced by Matt Tolbert?
-- Joe B., Stillwater, Minn.

Joe, players frequently go to Venezuela for only short stints, and that was the case with Hughes this winter. He started the season with Tigres de Aragua, but had planned to only be with the club for a little over a month. Tolbert, on the other hand, didn't leave for Venezuela until the start of December and just so happened to get there around the time that Hughes was heading home. So there is no reason to be concerned about injuries. In fact, the Twins seemed pleased by Hughes' numbers while he was in Venezuela and are looking forward to seeing how he performs this year in his first big league Spring Training.

After hearing about GM Bill Smith's comment about having last year's team and not being afraid to go into this year with that team, do you expect the Twins to make any more moves?
-- Jordan R., Minot, N.D.

I don't think that the Twins want to be done making moves, Jordan. I know it's been a very slow offseason in Minnesota, where, for the most part, the Hot Stove has barely been simmering with Twins news. But I don't believe it's from a lack of effort, as the Twins have been conversing with numerous teams regarding possible trades. The problem has just been that no matches have yet been found. I think that the Twins will keep trying to find options that will make the club better, even if they do like their current team.

Now, does that mean there will be a big move before the Twins report to Spring Training in Fort Myers, Fla.? I'm not sure of that. The difficulty that the Twins have had so far this winter in filling their holes doesn't appear to be easing anytime soon. So, for now, we'll have to sit and wait, watching to see if 2009 might bring better luck for the ballclub.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.