With the trade of Ryan Doumit, does that most likely mean Josh Willingham will get most of the at-bats at designated hitter in 2014?
-- Bob R., Prior Lake, Minn.
Doumit, who was traded to the Braves for left-hander Sean Gilmartin, was expected to see plenty of time at designated hitter this year, so the trade definitely opens up opportunities for players such as Willingham to serve as DH.
Willingham, 34, had arthroscopic knee surgery last season and hit just .208/.342/.368 with 14 homers, 20 doubles and 48 RBIs after having a career year in '12, when he hit 35 homers and drove in 110 runs.
So the Twins will be cautious with Willingham and give him a break from the outfield whenever he needs it, but he's not likely to be a full-time DH. Despite his defensive limitations, Willingham still likes playing left field and hits much better when he's not serving as DH.
Willingham is just a career .212/.342/.364 hitter in 453 games at DH, while he's a .260/.362/.481 hitter in 843 games in left field.
The trade also served as good news for Jason Kubel, who joined a crowded group of corner outfield/DH types on the roster as a Minor League free agent. Kubel is more accustomed to serving as a DH from his previous stint with the Twins and has a much better chance of making the roster now that Doumit is gone.
What's the report on Gilmartin, who was acquired from the Braves for Doumit?
-- Ron B., Rapid City, S.D.
Gilmartin, a first-round Draft pick by the Braves in 2011, was a fast mover through the Minors, reaching Triple-A in '12, just his second year as a pro.
As a result, he was ranked as Atlanta's No. 4 overall prospect by MLB.com entering last season, but he has struggled at Triple-A.
The 6-foot-2 left-hander had a 4.78 ERA in seven starts at Triple-A in '12, before posting a 5.74 ERA in 17 starts with 65 strikeouts in 91 innings last year. He's more of a finesse pitcher with a good changeup, as his fastball has been clocked between 87-89 mph.
His stock has dropped as a result of his troubles at Triple-A, but he's still not too far removed from being the No. 28 overall pick in the '11 First-Year Player Draft and being regarded as a top pitching prospect entering last season.
So he's a good buy-low candidate for the Twins, especially considering Doumit's decline last season and the fact the Braves are taking on all of his $3.5 million in salary this year. He still projects as a starter for the back-end of the rotation, but getting any sort of value for Doumit was a plus for Minnesota.
What are the chances the Twins trade a guy like Vance Worley, Scott Diamond or Samuel Deduno for help in the lineup?
-- Brandon M., Valley City, N.D.
The Twins essentially have four locks for their rotation in Nolasco, Hughes, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey, but the fifth spot will be up for grabs in Spring Training.
Deduno, who had a 3.83 ERA in 18 starts last year while nearly cutting his walk rate in half, is considered the favorite for that final spot.
That would leave Diamond and Worley on the outside looking in, as like Deduno, they're all out of Minor League options. So it'll be an interesting battle in Spring Training, because the Twins can't just send down any of those three to Triple-A Rochester. It could lead to a trade during Spring Training, but I don't think the Twins will look to trade Worley or Diamond before then, especially because both don't have much value after struggling last season.
I really like what the Twins have done so far in the offseason. It really shows they are not going to lie down and wait until the young guys come up to try to be competitive. What about some bullpen help, though?
-- Travis S., Webster, S.D.
Twins general manager Terry Ryan was asked about adding relief help during the Winter Meetings but said he was focusing more on improving the rotation and the offense.
The bullpen was probably the club's biggest strength in '13, posting the fifth-best ERA in the American League, despite throwing the most innings.
Glen Perkins is an All-Star-caliber closer, and Jared Burton and Casey Fien are expected to be the top setup men. The Twins' only loss from last year's bullpen was Josh Roenicke, but he was mostly ineffective during the second half of the season and should be replaced easily.
Right-hander Michael Tonkin also remains a top relief prospect and should get his chance to make an impact this season.
Why not bring top prospects Miguel Sano or Byron Buxton for Spring Training?
-- Matt A., Hugo, Minn.
Well, Sano is expected to be in big league camp this year, and it's very likely Buxton will at least see some time playing in Major League Spring Training games, even if he starts out in Minor League camp.
Both players saw action in Grapefruit League play last year, and Sano should get plenty of playing time at third base this spring. The Twins want to see how close he is to being Major League ready, as he could make his debut early in the summer.
Unlike Sano, Buxton, whom MLB.com ranked as the top prospect in baseball, isn't likely to see big league action until 2015.