Minnesota currently has vacancies at second base and third base, although the club is only expected to fill one of the holes this winter. And right now it appears that the club is looking primarily at third base, thanks to the feeling by many within the organization that prospect Danny Valencia is not quite ready to step into the role at the start of the 2010 season.
Valencia was added to the club's 40-man roster last month and has been expected to compete for the starting job in Spring Training. But during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire indicated that he doesn't foresee Valencia starting the year with the club after the third baseman didn't earn a callup last September.
"Last year no one said he was ready for the big leagues," Gardenhire said of Valencia. "So to all of a sudden say over the winter that he made a ton of improvement and that he should start the season is hard for me to fathom. But nothing is out of the realm of possibilities when you go to Spring Training."
Twins general manager Bill Smith said that he was "100 percent in line" with Gardenhire's sentiments about Valencia. But he did recall a similar situation two years ago when the feeling was that Denard Span was not yet ready for the Majors. After Span did not earn a September callup in 2007, the Twins shopped for other center fielders to replace Torii Hunter, who departed as a free agent. But Span impressed during Spring Training and eventually found his way up to the Majors, emerging as one of the club's current stars.
"Let's see what happens in Spring Training," Smith said. "I give Danny Valencia credit. He's down in Puerto Rico right now playing winter ball and trying to get better. ... You always want an underdog guy, somebody to step up when presented with an opportunity. "
The Twins do have internal options to fill the spot if Valencia indeed isn't ready to start the year with the club. Gardenhire said Tuesday that if the season began now Brendan Harris would be his third baseman. That would likely leave Nick Punto to be the club's starting second base. The Twins also have Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert as candidates for the spots as well.
But while the Twins have options, the club has also been exploring the market extensively to find a way to upgrade the infield.
"There are a lot of third baseman out there," Smith said. "We have some depth at that position, but there are also a lot of people out there on the free-agent market."
One possibility is for the club to bring back Joe Crede on another incentive-laden, one-year deal, although a decision on that would likely come much later in the winter. Crede is coming off this third back surgery in three years and the Twins would want to monitor how he's doing health-wise closer to Spring Training before making a decision.
"We have had a couple conversations with [Crede's agent] Scott Boras and we've just kind of put it on hold for now," Smith said.
In a text message to MLB.com on Tuesday, Crede wrote that he's feeling great and his rehabilitation is right on schedule, but he's prepared to have to wait to sign.
"I anticipate it'll happen about the same time as last year," Crede said referring to the one-year deal he signed with the Twins this past February.
But whether or not the Twins will still have an opening at that time is unclear.
"If we have an opportunity for the right fit, sometimes you can't wait," Smith said.
That fit could possibly come through the trade market. A Padres source indicated Tuesday that upwards of eight teams have inquired about third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, and the Twins are believed to be one of them. Kouzmanoff, who is eligible for salary arbitration for the first time this winter, has been considered a Twins' target in recent years and San Diego appears willing to listen to offers.
Besides settling the infield, the Twins also would like to add a veteran bat to the bench. This week the club has continued to show interest in infielder/outfielder Robb Quinlan. The 32-year-old Minnesota native batted .243 with two homers and 14 RBIs with the Angels last season. He would give the Twins a backup option for first base, third base and the outfield.