The Winter Meetings have come and gone, and the Twins' revamped rotation is starting to take shape.
The Twins signed right-handers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to multiyear deals in the week leading up to the Winter Meetings, and while they didn't make any signings while at the Meetings, they agreed to re-sign right-hander Mike Pelfrey on Saturday.
Those three free-agent signings signal that the Twins are serious about improving their rotation, which was the worst in the Majors last season.
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But the Twins aren't done this offseason, so there are still plenty more questions out there. Here are a few from readers for this week's Twins Inbox:
How much better should the rotation be next year after signing Nolasco, Hughes and Pelfrey? Who else do you think will make the rotation, and what will the club do with pitchers such as Scott Diamond, Vance Worley and Andrew Albers?
-- Jim J., Mankato, Minn.
Well, let's just say it would be pretty difficult for the rotation to be any worse, as it was the worst in the Majors by quite a bit.
Twins starters combined for a 5.26 ERA, which was nearly a half run higher than the Rockies' 4.81 ERA, which was the second worst in baseball. They also struck out just 4.9 batters per nine innings, which was the lowest rate by any rotation since 2006. No other team finished with fewer than 6.0 strikeouts per nine innings last season.
Nolasco should help stabilize the rotation as the de facto ace, as he's usually good for about 200 innings and a strikeout rate of about 7.4 batters per nine innings. His career has been marred by some inconsistency, but he seemed to turn a corner last season with a 3.70 ERA in 199 1/3 innings between the Marlins and Dodgers.
Hughes is a bit more of a wild card, as he has the pedigree to be a solid starting pitcher but struggled with a 5.19 ERA last season. Given his age -- he's still just 27 -- and the fact that he's a fly-ball pitcher moving to Target Field, the Twins believe he will bounce back. He's also struck out 7.6 batters per nine innings in his career.
The Twins are hoping for the same from Pelfrey, who also posted a 5.19 ERA last season in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. The Twins believe he can take a step forward in his second year after the surgery, and advanced stats such as FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and BABIP (batting average on balls in play) showed he experienced some bad luck last season.
Kevin Correia is also all but guaranteed a spot in the rotation, leaving just one opening with Samuel Deduno the favorite to claim that spot. Diamond, Worley and Albers all remain on the roster but are likely to begin the year at Triple-A Rochester as added starting pitching depth.
What are the chances of seeing Alex Meyer in the starting rotation this year?
-- Chuck F., St. Paul, Minn.
Meyer remains the club's top pitching prospect, and will be invited to big league camp for a chance to crack the rotation.
But Twins manager Ron Gardenhire confirmed at the Winter Meetings that Meyer remains a major long shot to make the rotation out of camp because he has work to do in the Minors. It also doesn't help his chances now that the Twins have signed three free-agent starting pitchers.
But Meyer could still make his Major League debut at some point next season, if he dominates at Triple-A Rochester, and stays healthy, which is no small thing after being plagued by shoulder problems last season.
Fellow prospect Kyle Gibson was also hurt by the three free-agent signings, and he'll also likely begin the year at Triple-A Rochester with a chance to crack the rotation again later in the season. The Twins still have high hopes for Gibson despite his 6.53 ERA in 10 starts as a rookie last season.
Is it fair to say that the Twins will have no full-time designated hitter for 2014? Thus, the DH position will be filled by players needing a break from fielding which allows Gardenhire to have flexibility?
-- Josh R., St. Paul, Minn.
Gardenhire was asked that exact question at the Winter Meetings, and said he likes having a rotating DH to give players a break here and there.
Josh Willingham will likely get the most time at DH, while Ryan Doumit will get his fair share of time there as well. But now that Joe Mauer will be at first base, he won't need to DH as often, which should give the Twins more flexibility with the position.
Does Jason Kubel have a realistic shot at making the roster out of Spring Training?
-- Dave L., Edina, Minn.
Kubel signed a Minor League deal with an invite to Spring Training on Friday, and will compete for a corner-outfield spot in camp.
He's coming off a down year, hitting just .216 with five homers and 32 RBIs in 97 games with the D-backs and Indians, but was solid with Arizona in '12, hitting .253 with 30 homers, 30 doubles and 90 RBIs.
So it's a deal that carries little risk, and they're obviously familiar with him after he played seven seasons with Minnesota. The Twins have some depth in the corner outfield with Oswaldo Arcia, Chris Parmelee and Willingham on the roster, but Kubel will definitely get a chance during Spring Training to regain to his old form and make the team. It's probably not likely, but there's always a chance.
Other than free-agent pitchers, are there any position players the Twins are interested in?
-- Jimmy C., Brooklyn Park, Minn.
Twins general manager Terry Ryan has said all along that he'd also like to improve an offense that finished 25th in the Majors in runs scored and shattered the club record for times striking out in a season.
But the Twins haven't been strongly linked to any position players in recent weeks, outside of catchers A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and they lost out on signing both.
They still have their eye on the catching market, and have been linked to free agent Kurt Suzuki, but he doesn't figure to provide much offensive help. There has also been a report linking them to shortstop Stephen Drew, but it would be surprising if they signed him away from the Red Sox. So the Twins have the payroll flexibility to add a bat, but don't have any obvious targets.