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Twins bring aggressive strategy into Meetings

Twins bring aggressive strategy into Meetings

MINNEAPOLIS -- Unlike in recent years, the Twins head to Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings already having made two major splashes via free agency this offseason.

The Twins bolstered their rotation by agreeing to sign right-handers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to the two largest free-agent contracts in franchise history. Nolasco is reportedly set to earn $49 million over four years, while Hughes agreed on a three-year, $24 million deal.

So while the Twins made two major moves in a week's span, they still have work to do at the Winter Meetings, which are being held from Dec. 9-12 at The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The Twins lost 96 games for a second straight year in 2013, and know adding just two players isn't going to reverse their fortunes overnight.

"We are going to have to go out and look, take every avenue possible to supplement this roster," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "There are multiple reasons we are where we are. Just look at the diamond. We're striking out too much. We aren't hitting for average. We aren't hitting for power. So we have a lot of things to fix. Not just one thing."

Despite agreeing to sign Nolasco and Hughes, the Twins could look to add another starting pitcher and are still on the lookout for a veteran catcher now that Joe Mauer moved to first base because of the concussion he suffered in August.

The Twins committed a combined $73 million to Nolasco and Hughes but still have payroll to work with, as they have roughly $75 million-$78 million in payroll commitments for next season. The Twins opened the 2013 campaign with an $82 million payroll and averaged a payroll of more than $100 million in their first three seasons at Target Field.

But the Twins have largely accomplished their main offseason goal of improving the rotation, as they've been aggressive in free agency with Nolasco and Hughes.

Nolasco was the first to agree to sign on the day before Thanksgiving before Hughes agreed to sign with the club just three days later. Both pitchers are expected to give a big boost to a rotation that finished with the worst ERA and the fewest strikeouts in the Majors in 2013.

Nolasco and Hughes are set to join a rotation that already includes Kevin Correia and Samuel Deduno with the fifth spot up in the air. The Twins could opt to fill it from within with pitchers such as Vance Worley, Scott Diamond and Kyle Gibson competing for a spot or add another starting pitcher.

The Twins still reportedly have interest in bringing back right-hander Mike Pelfrey, who said he'd like to return to Minnesota at the end of the season. And they've also been linked to former Twins left-hander Johan Santana, and could afford to take a risk after adding Nolasco and Hughes to the rotation.

Minnesota is also in the market for a backstop, and the club reportedly had discussions with former Twins catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who signed with the Red Sox. The Twins have some depth at the position with Josmil Pinto, Ryan Doumit and Chris Herrmann on the roster, but only Pinto projects as a starter and might need more seasoning defensively before he's ready to take over full time.

It could add up to a busy Winter Meetings for the Twins, who were also active at this point in the offseason last year -- but with trades and not free agency. The Twins traded Denard Span to the Nationals for top pitching prospect Alex Meyer in the week leading up to the Winter Meetings before dealing Ben Revere to the Phillies for Worley and prospect Trevor May on the last day of the Meetings.

Meyer and May, who both last pitched in the Arizona Fall League, could crack the rotation at some point this season, but they are both slated to open the year at Triple-A Rochester. Meyer, ranked as the club's No. 3 prospect by MLB.com, posted a 3.31 ERA with 84 strikeouts in 70 innings at Double-A New Britain, missing time with a shoulder strain. And May, ranked as the club's No. 7 prospect, had a 4.51 ERA with 159 strikeouts in 151 2/3 innings at Double-A.

The Twins haven't been as aggressive with trades this offseason, only acquiring left-hander Kris Johnson from the Pirates for reliever Duke Welker. But they could be more active on that front at the Winter Meetings with every club's general manager in attendance.

Either way, it should be an interesting week for the Twins, who have already proved they're serious about turning it around after three straight years with 95-plus losses.

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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