LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. – The Twins are fairly confident that their closer of the near future is already in the organization.
What they are trying to determine is how near that future really is.
Already tasked with upgrading their starting rotation, the Twins could use a reliever or two. And they have been in contact with many agents representing relief targets. One of those is former Twins closer Brandon Kintzler, who was traded last July 31 but is willing to return to the club.
The Twins also have shown interest in 40-year old Fernando Rodney, who had a 4.23 ERA but saved 39 games. Righthander Juan Nicasio, who had a 2.61 ERA in 76 games with three different clubs last season, also is on their radar but has little closing experience and might be a set-up target.
The Twins’ search could be influenced by their belief that some of their young relievers can close. Just not right now.
Someone like Rodney could close for part of the season before yielding to one of the younger arms, if the Twins go that route.
“Do we want to thrust that person into that role come Opening Day? Probably not,” Twins General Manager Thad Levine said. “But I think, come season’s end, that are we open-minded that someone who didn’t start the year as the closer finishes the year as the closer.”
Sidearmer Trevor Hildenberger was 3-3 with a 3.21 ERA last season after being called up from Class AAA Rochester. He got one save, on Aug. 13 vs. Detroit when he went 1⅓ innings. His competitiveness was evident the more experience he received. In 124 minor league games, Hildenberger posted a 1.57 ERA and picked up 52 saves.
He appears best equipped to step into the ninth-inning role.
Righthander John Curtiss was called up in August but gave up eight runs over 8⅔ innings. However, he averaged 95.2 miles per hour with his fastball and was virtually unhittable in the minors. He posted a 0.72 ERA in 21 games at Class AA Chattanooga before moving to Class AAA Rochester, where he had a 1.85 ERA in 18 games.
A third rookie, Alan Busenitz, had a 1.99 ERA over 28 games, with a fastball that averaged 95.8 mph to go with a solid curveball.
“Trying to prognosticate who’s the next impact guy out of your pen is a little more challenging to do,” Levine said. “We would prefer not to force that into action early in the season but kind of let that happen organically over the course of the season.”
The Twins entered the season with Kintzler as the closer, Glen Perkins recovering from shoulder surgery and young power arms in Nick Burdi, Jake Reed, J.T. Chargois and Tyler Jay close to major league debuts. But Perkins needed most of the season to recover and was not the same once he did. And each of the young power arms got injured, with Burdi needing season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Burdi and Reed were left off the 40-man roster and are eligible to be selected in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft.
Indications are that the Twins will not go after top closing targets on the market, such as righthanders Wade Davis and Greg Holland, mainly because of cost. With the Twins also looking for a quality starter, they have to be careful how they allocate their resources.
They have a big board in their suite to help them organize their search and determine what is more important, someone to start games or someone to end them.
“Free-agent acquisition, what does it cost. What our total budget is. Then you start to put the pieces together,” Levine said. “Then we ask the [staff] over here if it is starter versus reliever, when do we start melding these lists together in terms of prioritization?
“As you are building your team for next year, what is your gut-check moment?”