It’s winter meetings time, which means it’s time for the Twins’ annual search for pitching help.
The Twins aren’t ruling out adding a position player if they believe they need depth at a position, but they head to San Diego for baseball’s annual winter meetings needing arms for the rotation and bullpen as they head into Year 1 of the Paul Molitor era.
“We’re looking at the rotation, which has been an issue for us for a while,” Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said, “but we could also add to that bullpen. We are a little young in our bullpen.”
It appears that their work is cut out for them. Their 4.57 ERA was the worst in the major leagues in 2014. For the second year in a row, they had the worst starters’ ERA in baseball, 5.06 after being 5.26 in 2013.
Phil Hughes was a free-agent find last season, going 16-10 with a 3.52 ERA, and Kyle Gibson showed flashes of turning the corner, going 13-12 with a 4.47 ERA. But the rest of the rotation was a disaster, so Ryan and his staff have been on the prowl for pitchers.
They have inquired about many this offseason and will follow up by meeting with agents during their stay in San Diego.
The Twins showed initial interest in Justin Masterson, requesting the righthander’s medical information. But there has been little contact of late, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, and Masterson appears to be moving forward without the Twins. A handful of teams are set to meet Masterson over the next week or so.
One pitcher the Twins remain interested in is lefthander Brett Anderson, who was 1-3 with a 2.91 ERA in eight starts with the Rockies this year. His worst outing was when he faced the Twins on July 13, giving up five runs over five innings. But that was his first outing after a three-month stint on the disabled list.
That’s what has held Anderson back. He has thrown just 206⅓ innings over the past four seasons because of a host of injuries, including Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2011. His return last season ended in August because of back surgery. When he’s healthy, he is considered an above-average pitcher. The Twins are set to meet with Anderson’s agent in San Diego.
Another starter the Twins have been linked to is righthander Ryan Vogelsong, who went 8-13 with a 4.00 ERA with the Giants. He is 37 years old but still averaged 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 2014.
Ryan made it clear he would like to add someone to upgrade the rotation, not just take a spot.
“We are looking for someone who is going to get people out and give us a a chance to win games,’’ he said. “You can go about that in different ways.
“I don’t want to throw it out there that we are looking for someone just to eat innings. We are looking for someone who is going to give us quality innings.”
Luke Gregerson, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson and Sergio Romo are among the notable relievers on the free-agent market. But some of them figure to fetch a nice salary. In Robertson’s case, any team that signs him would have to yield a draft pick.
Look for the Twins to search for second-tier relief candidates. Their bullpen will be minus righthanders Anthony Swarzak and Jared Burton. They could make a play for someone like Jason Motte, who led the National League with 42 saves for the Cardinals in 2012 but missed 2013 and part of 2014 while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
The Twins could also swing a trade for pitching help, as some teams already have been turned off by sticker shock on some free agents or are unimpressed by the talent on the market. After the Tigers, Yankees and Diamondbacks swung a three-team deal Friday, some have wondered if a rash of trades will break out this week.
Ryan said he has spoken with agents as much as he has teams this offseason, and can’t tell if there will be more trades than normal next week.
“When you get out to the winter meetings, you might have a better opportunity to make a trade because you’re right there with the 29 other clubs and you can look a team right in the eye,” Ryan said. “A lot of things come together in the winter meetings. You don’t have that luxury on the phone.”