Ryan, Twins making rotation top priority

MINNEAPOLIS — It’s no surprise that the main objective for the Minnesota Twins this offseason will be to acquire pitching.

The Twins’ rotation had a 5.40 ERA last season, the worst in the American League and second-worst in all of baseball behind Colorado. Minnesota’s five-man group remains a giant question mark, and several bullpen spots appear up in the air as well.

“Starting pitching in particular, but any pitching would be good,” Ryan said. “We need to find a staff here. We need to add to that rotation and give us choices and also allow us to provide some depth.”

Tuesday was the first day of what will surely be a busy stretch for Ryan and the Twins front office. All major league teams had to fill up their 40-man rosters by Tuesday in order to protect those players for MLB’s Rule 5 draft, which takes place Dec. 6. during the winter meetings in Nashville.

The Rule 5 draft allows teams to select players from other teams who fit a certain criteria in terms of service time and who are not protected on the 40-man roster. While baseball’s amateur draft in June draws most of the attention, the Rule 5 Draft is another way for teams like the Twins to add pieces to a roster.

“That’s why people are out there scouting the leagues in the entire spring and summer — and fall, for that matter,” Ryan said. “If a team has too many prospects and they can’t put them all on their roster, at least you have the ability to maybe identify a guy that can help your club. We had a little luck in that in the past.”

Minnesota’s most recent luck in the Rule 5 draft came in 2010, when the Twins acquired left-hander Scott Diamond from the Atlanta Braves. Two years later, Diamond was Minnesota’s top starter and appears poised to earn a spot in the starting rotation in 2013.

Ryan wouldn’t go as far as to say Diamond is a lock for next years’ rotation, but he was clearly impressed with Diamond’s numbers in 2012. The left-hander was 12-9 with a 3.54 ERA in 27 starts (173 innings) with the Twins.

“He got up to 200 total innings this year in Triple-A and the major leagues. That’s pretty much the goal that people are looking for in the major leagues nowadays,” Ryan said. “You’re looking for guys that can give you innings — and have some quality innings, not just innings, but give you some quality. I think the phrase that everybody likes to use, when you put a guy out there to start a game, you’re hoping that he gives you a chance. That’s what we’re looking for.”

And the Twins are looking to possibly acquire that type of pitching in a variety of ways, be it the Rule 5 draft, free agency and trades. Another possible starting pitcher candidate for 2013 is right-hander Kyle Gibson, who missed almost the entire 2012 season after having Tommy John surgery in late 2011. Gibson likely would have competed for a spot in the rotation last spring, but he spent most of the year rehabbing.

Gibson did appear briefly at Triple-A late in the season, making two starts. More recently, he pitched in the Arizona Fall League and went 3-2 with a 5.40 ERA.

Ryan and the Twins were pleased with the progress Gibson has made and with the way he performed in the AFL.

“He stayed healthy and he didn’t miss any turns, had no setbacks in his rehab and therapy and so forth,” Ryan said. “We were pleased to get him up to about 75 innings for the year, which is where we had hoped to get him to. He’ll come into major league camp on the roster and fight for a spot.”

Ryan wouldn’t set a number on the Twins’ 2013 payroll. He and the club operated with a payroll of around $100 million last year, down from $113 million in 2011. The 2013 payroll will likely be less than it was a year ago, but Ryan remains confident that the team will have enough money to spend in order to lure free agents to Minnesota this offseason.

“I have an idea about what would be a ceiling, but that’s not really the main issue we’ve got at hand here,” Ryan said of the payroll. “You’re looking at free agents and trades, we have enough flexibility, I think, with the payroll to be able to provide us some comfort that we can get some people here. It’s just a matter of the value you put on those particular guys.

“We’re going to try to get some people here that fit. This isn’t a great class, this free-agent class, but there are some people there that can certainly help us.”

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