Inbox: How serious is interest in Thome?

Inbox: How serious is interest in Thome?

MINNEAPOLIS -- I'm back in the Twin Cities after spending last week on the south leg of the Twins Winter Caravan. It's always fun to get out on the road and see how excited fans are for the upcoming season. The biggest topic of course was Target Field. OK, that and Joe Mauer's contract status, but that was no surprise as everyone seems to be waiting for news on that topic.

I appreciate all of the fans who came up to me and engaged me in conversation while the Caravan was out on the road. But now it's time to get back to the old-fashioned way of answering your questions, as I dig through your e-mails to deliver the latest edition of the Twins Inbox.

Just how serious is the Twins' interest in signing Jim Thome?
-- Adam P., Plainview, Minn.

This is not just passive interest by the team. The Twins would really like to sign Thome and give themselves another dangerous bat -- one to have available in pinch-hit situations and occasionally to use as a designated hitter. The Twins current bench appears to be a little weak and the addition of Thome would go a long way into giving the club more of a threat in late-inning situations.

One thing that seemed to halt any decision by Thome was the White Sox waffling on whether or not to make him an offer. Manager Ozzie Guillen said this weekend that the White Sox organization has been discussing over the past couple weeks whether it wanted to bring back the well-liked veteran. It's a complicated situation for Chicago as Guillen doesn't want a full-time DH who doesn't have other options besides DHing and adding Thome might mean the White Sox would have to go with 11 pitchers out of Spring Training. It was a tough decision for Chicago but on Monday night, Guillen officially announced that Thome would not be returning.

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So while Thome's first preference might have been to go back to the place where he's spent the majority of the past four seasons, that option is now gone. The Twins appear to be high on Thome's list but they aren't the only club interested in the veteran slugger. Tampa Bay also is said to be talking to Thome and his agent. With Chicago now out of the picture Thome's situation likely could be resolved soon, so stay tuned.

Will Kevin Slowey be our No. 2 starter? Or will he be pushed back because of injury?
-- Branden S., Minnetonka, Minn.

During the Twins' Winter Caravan last week, manager Ron Gardenhire said that he expects Scott Baker to be the club's starting pitcher on Opening Day, April 5, vs. the Angels and that Carl Pavano will likely start the second game of the season. So Slowey won't technically be the No. 2 starter, although it's not due to injury and the club is expecting him to begin the year in the rotation.

As for Slowey's health, he is on track to be ready for Spring Training. Gardenhire told fans that Slowey had a little bit of swelling in his right wrist but that it was checked out and the doctors said it was fine. In an e-mail to MLB.com, Slowey said that his wrist is coming along well and that he's been long tossing at 180 feet without any pain. He threw his first bullpen session about two weeks ago and while there are still a lot of bullpens to go before he's game ready, Slowey said that he couldn't be more encouraged at this point in his recovery.

With all of the arbitration-eligible players signed, where does the Twins' payroll sit? And how much do they have to spare to get Joe Mauer re-signed long term?
-- Matt R., Albert Lea, Minn.

Counting all of the players whose salary is determined for next season, the Twins' current payroll for 2010 is sitting close to $86.5 million. When you add in the estimated amounts for the eight remaining spots, which will likely go to players who are between 1-3 years in service and will make just a little over the minimum, then the payroll would appear to be right around $90 million. Minnesota doesn't appear willing to spend much more than that -- perhaps up to $5 million more or so. But that shouldn't have any impact on the club re-signing Mauer.

It appears that if the team is going to sign Mauer, it would likely be to a contract extension. Mauer is already set to make $12.5 million in 2010, the final year in his current four-year contract, and I think that both sides will be OK to work on a deal that begins next season since the team appears close to reaching its payroll limit for this next season.

With Jose Morales injured, is there any chance that we will be seeing prospect Wilson Ramos in action this season?
-- John H., La Crescent, Minn.

While Ramos is considered to be one of the Twins' top prospects, if he is not ready to break camp with the club at the end of Spring Training it will likely be Drew Butera who gets the call as the backup catcher. Although Ramos is the more well-known prospect, he is still developing his skills behind the plate and he's had some health issues. Butera played all of last year at Triple-A Rochester and is considered a very good catch-and-throw guy, which is what the Twins will be looking for at backstop. While it's unlikely that Minnesota fans will see Ramos right away, the catcher had a very good winter while playing in the Venezuelan Winter League (batting .332 with a .582 slugging percentage) and it might not be long before he makes his push for a callup.

What is Ron Mahay's status? Will the Twins re-sign him?
-- Chris R., Orlando, Fla.

Earlier this offseason the Twins had interest in bringing Mahay back as another left-hander out of the bullpen, but the two sides were unable to come to a contract agreement. It appears that the organization has moved on. The club looks to have six relief spots locked up and there will be plenty of competition this spring for what will likely be the final bullpen opening. If the Twins want a second lefty in their bullpen to complement Jose Mijares, they could perhaps turn to one of their left-handed starters like Francisco Liriano or Brian Duensing if neither of them earns a spot in the rotation.

When will single-game tickets go on sale? I can't wait to come up to see the new stadium.
-- Roger M., Muskego, Wis.

The Twins announced this week that there will be two ways for fans to get single-game tickets. The first is for the club's opening series at Target Field against the Red Sox. Fans can register online for the opportunity to purchase tickets for those games on Friday, Jan. 29 through Wednesday, Feb. 10. A random drawing will then be held to determine who can purchase tickets. Single-game tickets for the remaining home games at Target Field will then go on sale on Saturday, March 13, at 9 a.m. CT.

When is the next time Game 163 will be aired? I missed the Christmas re-air, and I would really like to re-live the amazing game.
-- Kimberly M., Saint Michael, Minn.

The next airing of "163 presented by Best Buy" will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 26, at 7 p.m. CT on Fox Sports North. If you can't catch the episode then, you will have two more opportunities to re-live that memorable game. The network will air the three-hour special on Monday, Feb. 15, and Tuesday, March 9 -- both running at 7 p.m. CT.

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