La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.
The Twins have met with the agent for outfielder Rajai Davis, an indication that they are concerned about having a fall-back plan if Aaron Hicks doesn't win the centerfield job during spring training.
Davis, 33, has a career batting average of .268 and has stolen 268 bases in his career. He can motor but his .316 on base percentage doesn't make him a good fit for the leadoff spot.
It's unsure how serious the Twins are about Davis. On Monday, Terry Ryan spoke at length about Hicks struggles last season and suggested he needs to report to spring training a new man because of it.
``We all know Hicks has got ability,'' Ryan said. ``Now it is just a matter if the adjustability comes into his game. Whether or not he can handle some of the failures that come with that major league seat. You don't move a guy until people are convinced that they are not able to handle the physical part but (also) the mental part. That a part of the equation any time you make a move, promotion or demotion.''
Ryan was asked about the adjustments that needed to be made.
``Pitchers were pitching him a certain way and it just seemed like he was not making any adjustments to their approach,'' Ryan said. ``Ultimately it was too much, snowballed. Hicks couldn't get going defensively. Gardy and I showed a lot of patience. We waited a long time, maybe longer than people thought and it just didn't happen.''
(Reporter's note): The Twins weren't going to charge up the standings, so I saw no problem with letting Hicks stay in the majors. But when the Twins were ready to make a move, a minor league replacement was either slumping or was injured. They had to play Hicks, and it got ugly.
Ryan said on Monday that he must take the blame for Hicks staying up too long. I disagree somewhat, but the kid really took his lumps. There was no healthy fallback plan last season but the Twins might make sure they have one in 2014.
Twins GM Terry Ryan just wrapped up his presser. Here are some highlights:
He said he has payroll flexibility to go after a starter or offensive help. With reports out that the Twins are back in on Bronson Arroyo, it looks like he's going after pitching first.
The catching free agent market dried up quickly last week, Ryan acknowledged. The Twins might have to trade for a catcher if they feel they need to add one.
Ryan said he would prefer to have some balance in his rotation. That appears to be unlikely, especially if they are able to sign Arroyo. Scott Diamond is their only left-handed starter at the moment.
Ryan said Samuel Deduno is playing catch and on pace to have a normal spring training. The Twins historically have taken it easy with pitchers coming back from surgery. Now, Mike Pelfrey and Vance Worley stayed on a normal track after having surgeries before the 2013 season. But the Twins held Diamond back as he races to be ready for Opening Day. My guess is that they will ease Deduno into action.
Ryan has a function to attend tonight but said he he hoped to speak with clubs and agents later this evening.
Ryan repeated that it's unlikely that the club will be active in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft on Thursday but could be active in the minor league phase.
Miguel Sano (right elbow) will be examined sometime this month. He was shut down early in the winter ball season because of a strained ulnar collateral ligament.
Rumblings are that Twins GM Terry Ryan is still looking for starting pitching as we're knee-deep in the first day of the winter meetings. Even after signing Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes last week, the Twins feel they could use another starter. If it's Mike Pelfrey, indications are it will have to be close to their previous offer of $10 million over two seasons.
Sometimes a marquee free agent or two will show up at the winter meetings to check in with clubs or sign deals. Then there are a few of the other guys, free agents still holding out hope they can extend their career a year or two.
I was reminded of the latter when I walked past a table of men, stopped and exclaimed, ``Juany, what the heck are you doing here!?''
Juan Rincon is at the winter meetings, looking for a chance to prove he can still get people out. Rincon, 34, pitched for York of the Independent League in 2013. In 2012, he split time with independent ball and Class AAA Salt Lake. He hasn't pitched in the majors since 2010. His best years were when he was with the Twins from 2001 to 2008. He served a 10-game suspension in 2005 for violating the MLB drug policy.
But he wants back in the game and hopes to hook on with a team this week. Haven't heard if the Twins will take a chance on him or not.
Some of you have asked for a Samuel Deduno update. Deduno, the one starter from last season who could miss a bat once in awhile, is working out down in Fort Myers, Fla., Twins GM Terry Ryan aid. Deduno is not quite ready to begin a throwing program yet. Deduno had shoulder surgery late in the season and the Twins are expected to take it easy with him early in spring training.
The Twins showed some interest in catcher J.P. Arencibia before he agreed to terms with Texas over the weekend.
Finally, MLB is heavily involved in the Stand Up 2 Cancer cause and this week is auctioning off several experiences, like Bryce Harper visiting your school, Michael Cuddyer coming over to do a magic show and the World Series trophy visiting your home or office. The two Twins-related items are a tour of the clubhouse and dugout by Glen Perkins and a chance to be an intern during the All-Star Game at Target Field. Head here for more details.
I was going to begin this by complaining about my flight last night from MSP, which was delayed three hours and forced me to arrive at the hotel at 3:10 a.m. But I just heard that ESPN's Jerry Crasnick was delayed 15 hours yesterday while trying to get out of Philly, so I'm not doing that bad!
Crashed around 3:50. Toss and turned. Woke up at 7:20 to prep for an 8:30 meeting. I will be fueled by Foldgers today. The funny part was when I shuffled out of my hotel room to head down. A guy in workout clothes is walking down the hallway and yells at me, ``you already hunting!''
He stuck out a hand. It was Mike Redmond, the human pick me up.
Several months ago, I predicted this would happen. The new TV contract would kick in, sending $25 million more to each major league team. I said at the beginning of the 2013 season that it would burn a hole through the pockets of these fat-cat owners.
Last week, more than $700 million was given out to free agents - that includes $73 million spent by the Twins on Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. And 26 teams added a player via trade or free agent signing, Derek Goold of the St. Louis Press-Dispatch pointed out.
And that just might have been the league stretching its legs. More is expected this week in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. at the annual winter meetings. Ervin Santana needs a home. Masahiro Tanaka could be posted. David Price could be traded. And a whole lot more.
As I pointed out in today's paper, Twins GM Terry Ryan is headed to the meetings with an open mind. If he has a chance to upgrade anywhere, he'll listen. Ryan and his staff flew in Sunday afternoon.
One thing that won't happen - and is usually a staple of the Twins visit to the meetings - is a Rule 5 selection. The Twins annually go into the draft with room on their 40-man roster to select someone. Seems unlikely this year.
``Thankfully we did that last year because we got (Ryan) Pressly and he was a good acquisition,'' Ryan said. ``It is possible (this year) but it is probably improbable.''
Ryan is expected to meet with teams and agents throughout the week as he searches for some offense and perhaps another starting pitcher. If the Twins make any room on their 40-man roster it will be to add a player through trade or free agency, a welcome change.
The first news of the day has been announced. The Hall of Fame Expansion Era Committee announced that Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre were all unanimously voted into The Hall. Among those not receiving 12 of the 16 votes required for election: Tommy John, Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner.
ESPN's Buster Olney couldn't resist with the following tweet: ``George Steinbrenner finishes a half-dozen votes short of HOF induction. I'd bet he wouldn't have been thrilled that Torre got in before him.''
The Expansion Era committee meets every three years. Next year, the Golden Era Committee will look at candidates who contributed to the game from 1947-72. Then the Pre-Integration Era will meet in 2015 to examine candidates from baseball's origins to 1946.
Headed to the lobby now. Hope to check in this afternoon with updates.
The Twins have officially announced the signing of righthander Phil Hughes to a three-year, $24 million contract. The deal was reached late last week but the club spent recent days going over details and checking Hughes' medical records before announcing the deal.
Hughes will meet with the Twin Cities media at 4 p.m. at Target Field.
Hughes is just 27 and once was considered one of the best starting pitching prospects in the game. But after going 16-13 with a 4.23 ERA in 2012 with the Yankees he skidded to 4-14, 5.19 in 2013. But he was 1-10, 6.32 at home, so the belief could be that Hughes could rediscover himself - he was 18-8 in 2010 - if he's out of Yankee Stadium.
It will be up to pitching coach Rick Anderson to help Hughes find his old form.
The Twins announced two signings on Wednesday - none of them Phil Hughes.
The club has signed third baseman Brandon Waring and lefthander Matthew Hoffman to Triple-A contracts with invites to spring training.
Waring was drafted in 2007 by the Reds and moved on to the Orioles organization. He spent most of last season at Class AA Bowie where he batted .213 with 23 homers and 61 RBI in 99 games. Warning, 27, has hit 159 homers in seven minor league seasons,
Hoffman, 25, was drafted by the Tigers in 2007 and spent recent seasons as a reliever. He was 4-3 with a 2.06 ERA in 40 games at Class AAA Toledo last season.
As for Hughes, I've been told that a few details are being hammered out. We still expect this to be announced by Friday.
It will be interesting to see what they do for catching, if anything. The catching market dried up quickly this week when Dionner Navarro. A.J. Pierzynski and Salty all signed. Will the Twins go with what they have or continue to look for help?