Meetings could be Twins' starting point

Meetings could be Twins' starting point

LAS VEGAS -- The Winter Meetings officially kick off Monday. But the question remains: just how active will the Twins be this week at the Bellagio?

It's been a silent offseason so far for Minnesota, with the team not making a single signing or acquisition. But in the week leading up to the annual Meetings, the Hot Stove started to heat up for the Twins.

The Twins' pursuit of free agent Casey Blake intensified early last week. Blake's agent Jim McDowell told reporters this week that the Twins, along with the Dodgers, had emerged as the front-runners for the third baseman. Various reports followed saying that both teams had offered the third baseman a two-year deal.

Yet just before the Meetings kicked off in Las Vegas, the Twins and Blake reportedly hit an impasse and cut off negotiations. Reports indicated that the sticking point between the two sides was that Blake wanted a guaranteed third year in a contract and the Twins were standing by their offer of two years with a third-year option.

With Blake apparently out of the picture for the Twins -- at least for now as there is always a chance the two sides could reopen talks -- Minnesota will likely use the Winter Meetings this week in Las Vegas to contact other teams about a trade for a third baseman or a shortstop. The ballclub has been intent on upgrading the left side of their infield offensively this winter, and besides Blake the Twins have shown little interest in filling their holes in the infield through the free-agent market.

So perhaps one of the biggest questions surrounding the Twins this week is whether they might deal one of their outfielders -- particularly Delmon Young -- to bolster their infield.

Minnesota currently has four outfielders vying for three spots, and manager Ron Gardenhire told a newspaper in Fargo, N.D., on Wednesday that he expects his starting outfield to be Denard Span, Carlos Gomez and Michael Cuddyer.

General manager Bill Smith has said that he doesn't have a problem entering next season with all four outfielders, but Major League sources have indicated that the Twins are listening to offers for Young.

If the Twins are unable to land Blake, then they likely would explore the trade market for a power-hitting third baseman. And perhaps Young might be the chip they use to obtain one or to add another arm to solidify the 'pen.

Minnesota is also expected to meet with Nick Punto's agent, Jeff Caulfield, this week in Vegas. While the Twins have been eager to upgrade offensively at shortstop as well as third base, they have been open about their desire to bring back Punto. The two sides have remained in contact this offseason, although it doesn't appear an official offer has been made. But the Twins aren't the only ones interested in the versatile infielder. The Mets and Phillies are among several teams reportedly showing interest in Punto.

So with holes remaining at third base and shortstop and a need for bullpen help, the Twins have plenty of issues to settle before they head to Fort Myers, Fla., in February. But it doesn't necessarily mean that the club will solve all of them this week. Minnesota has traditionally been quiet during the Winter Meetings, and these meetings are even more difficult to predict now that the economic recession has started to affect even baseball.

Of course, even if there are fewer signings and trades, baseball's week in Las Vegas will be busy. On Monday, the results of the pre-1943 and the post-1942 Hall of Fame Veterans Committee ballots will be announced at 10 noon CT. Among the former Twins on this year's Veteran ballots are Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Luis Tiant.

One broadcaster and one writer will also have their tickets to Cooperstown stamped in Vegas. The Ford C. Frick Award winner will be unveiled on Tuesday, and the Baseball Writers' Association of America's Spink Award winner will be announced at noon CT.

Major League Baseball will also make an announcement on Wednesday regarding the 2009 World Baseball Classic. The Meetings will then wrap up on Thursday with the Rule 5 Draft, which takes place at 11 a.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.