Twins have five eligible free agents

Twins have five eligible free agents

MINNEAPOLIS -- The offseason can now be deemed "officially" under way.

Thanks to the Yankees clinching their 27th World Series title on Wednesday night, players eligible for free agency could begin filing their paperwork on Thursday. So the Twins are on the clock in regards to the 15-day exclusive negotiating period that they have with their five impending free agents -- shortstop Orlando Cabrera, third baseman Joe Crede, reliever Ron Mahay, starting pitcher Carl Pavano and catcher Mike Redmond. Three of those players filed for free agency on Thursday -- Crede, Mahay, and Redmond.

But the Twins also have a time crunch on another decision they must make, as they have five days to decide whether to pick up Michael Cuddyer's $10.5 million option for 2011 or to pay him a $1 million buyout.

For Cuddyer, it's an interesting situation because either way he will be back in a Twins uniform for the 2010 season.

While cleaning out his locker the day after the Twins were swept by the Yankees in the American League Division Series last month, Cuddyer was asked if it would be awkward having to come back and play should his option not be picked up.

"I don't think so," Cuddyer said. "If that's the case, if the option is not picked up, then you go out and you play next year. Who knows what would happen after that. ... I don't really worry about that stuff because, frankly, it's out of my control. Obviously, I'd love to be here my whole career, so hopefully it's not just one year. Hopefully it's many years."

The Twins' decision about Cuddyer's option won't impact the 2010 team, but that's not the case in regards to whether the club will bring back any of their current crop of free agents.

Nearly all of the Twins' impending free agents have expressed a desire to return to the club in 2010, but it appears that Pavano and Cabrera are the most likely to be brought back -- that is, if their asking prices fit into the Twins' budget.

Pavano was a relative bargain for the Indians last offseason in free agency as he signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract, but it likely won't be the same story this year. Pavano saw his career gain new life in 2009, delivering a strong season following four injury-plagued years with the Yankees.

The right-hander went 14-12 with a 5.10 ERA while pitching 199 1/3 innings in 33 combined starts with Cleveland and Minnesota. After coming to the Twins in a waiver trade in early August, Pavano helped the club in its stretch run to yet another division title and pitched Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Yankees, allowing two runs over seven innings in a loss.

The Twins are expected to look this winter for at least one experienced starting pitcher to add to the rotation, which is the role that Pavano filled down the stretch for Minnesota. The Twins coaching staff has already expressed its interest in having Pavano return to once again provide some leadership to the younger starting pitchers.

"It takes two to tango, but I enjoyed my time here. I'm not going to deny it," Pavano said after his Game 3 start. "I enjoyed my teammates. Will this team be a force next year? Without a doubt."

Like Pavano, Cabrera was a solid veteran presence at his position in the infield. Cabrera delivered on the field as well, batting .284 with 83 runs and 77 RBIs in 160 combined games between the A's and Twins. After coming to Minnesota in a July 31 Trade Deadline deal, Cabrera was a big boost to the lineup in the No. 2 spot and helped provide what the coaches called a "winning attitude." It's those attributes that could have the Twins exploring the possibility of re-signing the 35-year-old shortstop.

Crede's health questions could keep the Twins from trying to re-sign the third baseman. Crede was limited to just 90 games, and in late September, he underwent his third back surgery in three seasons. Crede was on hand for the Twins' final playoff loss and described feeling great following surgery with his recovery time being faster this time around.

If neither Cabrera nor Crede return, it will be another offseason where the Twins must decide how to fill the holes on the left side of the infield. The club's top position prospect at Triple-A Rochester this season was third baseman Danny Valencia, but it's unclear yet if he'll be ready to break camp with the team in February. Nick Punto finished the year at second base, but he could play shortstop or third base, and the club also has other internal options for the two spots in Matt Tolbert and Brendan Harris.

As for Redmond, his five-year stint with the Twins could be coming to an end. Jose Morales appears ready to fill the backup catcher role behind All-Star Joe Mauer, so it's possible that Redmond, 38, might have to go elsewhere to continue his playing career. The same might also be true for Mahay, 38. The left-handed reliever went 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA in 16 relief appearances (nine innings) after signing with the Twins in late August.

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