Ryan wants backup catcher, promises clean slate for Nishioka

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 15, 2011 - 11:52 AM

While Joe Mauer has plans to return to regular duty behind the plate, the Twins GM would like to upgrade the depth at catcher.

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Twins General Manager Terry Ryan

Photo: McKenna Ewen, Star Tribune

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MILWAUKEE - Joe Mauer has been regaining strength this fall and is determined to catch 130 games next season, but General Manager Terry Ryan still wants to bolster the team's backup catching options.

"We're looking for catching depth," Ryan said Monday, on the eve of the general manager meetings. "Joe Mauer's our No. 1 catcher; there's no doubt about that."

But the Twins want a viable No. 2 option. Injuries limited Mauer to 47 starts at catcher last season, and his backups -- Drew Butera, Rene Rivera and Steve Holmes -- combined to bat .158, with 56 hits in 355 at-bats.

Agent Scott Boras has two free-agent catchers who could be a fit for the Twins: Jason Varitek and Ivan Rodriguez. Both are former All-Stars in the late stages of their careers.

"I think their roles are pretty defined now," Boras said. "I know Pudge [Rodriguez] wants to get to 3,000 hits, and he's got [156] to go; that's an important dimension for him. But I think it's clear that they understand they're not going to be everyday players."

Rodriguez, who turns 40 on Nov. 27, batted .218 with two home runs and 19 RBI in 44 games last season for the Nationals. Though he's basically a singles hitter now, he remains a top defensive catcher. His 19-year-old son, Dereck, signed with the Twins last year as a sixth-round draft pick, playing the outfield in the Gulf Coast League.

Varitek, who turns 40 in April, batted .221 with 11 home runs and 36 RBI in 68 games for the Red Sox last year. Though he doesn't throw well, Varitek has a great rapport with pitchers and still hits for power.

The Twins drafted Varitek in the first round out of Georgia Tech in 1993, but with Boras' guidance Varitek turned down their $430,000 offer and returned to school. He signed the next year with the Mariners, who eventually traded him to the Red Sox.

In other Twins news Monday:

• Michael Cuddyer has been to Philadelphia to tour Citizens Bank Park and meet with manager Charlie Manuel, and the Red Sox have reportedly expressed interest in signing Cuddyer. But word from Cuddyer's camp is that no team is out of the running, including the Twins.

• A large group of Japanese reporters was waiting to interview Ryan after he arrived at the Pfister Hotel in advance of the GM meetings. They wanted to know what Carroll's signing will mean for infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

Ryan said the Twins will "wipe the slate clean" with Nishioka, giving him a fresh start and a chance to win a starting job in spring training.

• Ryan said Justin Morneau should be ready to resume baseball activities in late December and expects him to be ready for the start of spring training. Morneau didn't return after suffering a concussion Aug. 28, and also had surgery on his left wrist at season's end, requiring six weeks in a cast.

• Matt Capps' agent, Paul Kinzer, said Ryan called him to express interest in re-signing the righthanded reliever. Though Capps struggled as the Twins' closer last season, Kinzer said, "I think he's going to be closing somewhere, I'll put it that way."

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