Looking Around The AL Central

Casey Blake ... headed to arbitration?

It will be interesting to see if Indians general manager Mark Shapiro's "hands-off" approach thus far this winter will play well next summer in the rugged AL Central. While Shapiro has not added much to his 2007 division championship team, the Tigers, White Sox, Royals and Twins have been wheeling and dealing in an effort to improve. Let's look around the division as spring training approaches:

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CLEVELAND INDIANS
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After signing reliever Rafael Betancourt, the Indians have one arbitration-eligible player left -- third baseman Casey Blake. The 34-year-old spent many years in the minors with several organizations before the Indians signed him as a minor league free agent following the 2002 season.
Since then, Blake has been versatile enough to play any of the corner positions in the infield and outfield, although the majority of his playing time with the Indians has been at third base.
Blake was expected to be the Indians' first baseman in 2007, but after prospect Andy Marte failed to produce at third base in April, Blake moved across the diamond for the rest of the season. Blake hit .270 with 18 home runs and 78 RBI, which are fairly typical numbers for him. He has hit .264 and averaged 21 home runs and 72 RBI in his five years in Cleveland.
Blake, who made $3.75 million last year, has filed for salary arbitration seeking a salary of $6.9 million in 2008. The Indians have offered $5.4 million.
"We continue to have conversations with Casey's agent and remain hopeful we can get something done," said Indians general manager Mark Shapiro. "If not, we're comfortable going through the arbitration process."
The Indians haven't gone to an arbitration hearing since they did so with left-hander Greg Swindell and second baseman Jerry Browne in 1991.
Betancourt, who had an All-Star caliber year as a setup man in 2007, was rewarded with a two-year, $5.4 million contract. He had been eligible for salary arbitration.
The 32-year-old right-hander, who made $860,000 last year, will get a base salary of $2.05 million this year and $3.35 million in 2009. There is a club option for 2010 worth $5.4 million. The contract also contains bonus provisions should Betancourt eventually become the Indians' closer.
In 68 appearances in 2007, Betancourt was 5-1 with a 1.47 ERA and held opposing batters to a .183 batting average. Right-handed hitters batted .147 against him. In 79 innings, he had 80 strikeouts and gave up just six unintentional walks.
NOTES, QUOTES
First baseman Ryan Garko says the Indians are expecting a battle in 2008 as they try to defend their Central Division title. "The whole division looks great on paper," said Garko. "Detroit really raised the bar with all the moves they've made this winter. And it was already the best division in baseball."
Garko said the Indians' experience in the postseason, when they eliminated the Yankees and came within one win of doing the same to the Red Sox, can only help them going into the 2008 season. "I think it gave all of us a confidence level that we really believe we are as good as we are," he said. "I think it took some of us by surprise what we did last year. But our confidence is way up now, and hopefully we can carry it into this season."
INF Beau Mills, last year's top draft pick, is one of eight more minor-leaguers invited by the Indians to their major league training camp as non-roster players. The others include LHP Chuck Lofgren, RHPs J.D. Martin and Jeff Stevens, CAs Chris Gimenez and Dave Wallace, 1B Jordan Brown and OF Trevor Crowe. The Indians have invited 18 non-roster players to their major league camp overall.
INF Jamey Carroll is the Indians' new utility infielder after being acquired from Colorado for a player to be named. He goes from a team that was in the World Series to one that missed getting there by one game. "In watching the Indians on TV in the playoffs, I saw a lot of the Rockies in this team," Carroll said. "There's a lot to be said for a team that won as many games as this team did last year. How can you not get excited when you look around at all the talent in this room?"
BY THE NUMBERS: 68 -- Number of walks issued in the last five years by RHP Rafael Betancourt. Over that same span, Betancourt has 313 strikeouts.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's probably more than I'll talk to you guys all year." -- INF Jamey Carroll, the Indians' new utility infielder, to reporters, after a lengthy session during the January press tour.
ROSTER REPORT
The Indians don't have many roster decisions to make. Virtually the entire team is under contract. They would like to add a middle-of-the-order bat, preferably someone who could play a corner outfield spot. And the club always tries to add a couple of free agent relievers to help with the bullpen depth. The signing of RHP Jorge Julio brings such depth.
ARRIVALS: RHPs Masahide Kobayashi (free agent from Japan) and Jorge Julio (free agent from Rockies) and INF Jamey Carroll (trade with Rockies).
DEPARTURE: INF Chris Gomez (free agent to Pirates).
FREE AGENTS: OFs Kenny Lofton and Trot Nixon, RHP Scott Elarton. The Indians are unlikely to re-sign them.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: 3B Casey Blake. Shapiro said the team might go to arbitration for the first time since 1991.
IN LIMBO: OFs Shin-Soo Choo and Ben Francisco, RHP Tom Mastny, 3B Andy Marte. All four could be trade bait, although if the Indians don't re-sign OF Kenny Lofton and/or OF Trot Nixon, it could open a roster spot for Choo or Francisco. Marte is out of options, so unless he has a monster training camp this spring, the Indians will have to trade him or risk losing him on waivers. Mastny has value out of the bullpen.
MEDICAL WATCH: OF Shin-Soo Choo (Tommy John surgery on left elbow in August 2007) could be ready to play in games by early May.

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CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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The word "swagger" continues to be thrown around by general manager Ken Williams as spring training draws near.
"I think we have some of the most balance in the division," Williams said when asked if the Sox were a legitimate playoff team. "We have some stiff competition, but if you look player-by-player, position-by-position, we stack up against anyone. Now, I will grant you that the Detroit Tigers will prove to be one of the best offensive teams in baseball. But we feel we have the balance to battle for 162 games.
"One thing that is being underestimated is we had an awful lot of guys perform below their levels. We don't need them to perform above their level this year, but at their level. Anyone that thinks you can anoint a division winner in January ... this is the game of baseball and you would be mistaken. We were anointed in '06, and you saw where that got us."
Adding Octavio Dotel to the bullpen as well as signing infielder/outfielder Alexei Ramirez to a four-year, $4.75 million contract had Williams using the word "versatility" in describing the improvements made since the 2007 season.
In adding Ramirez, Williams believes he might have found not only a guy that can play shortstop in case free agent-to-be Orlando Cabrera bolts the South Side after '08, but a versatile enough player who also can play center field or compete for the starting job at second base. Add to the fact that Ramirez is in the running for a look at the leadoff spot, and he would seemingly be a steal at the price the Sox got the 26-year-old Cuban standout.
"The shortstop position is what he likes the most, but we have seen first hand how good of a center fielder he is," Williams said of Ramirez. "This is a rare guy that can play alternate positions. The one thing we wanted to make sure we did was, yes, put together a club that can compete for a championship but do so with the swagger-type, grinder-type of player and also get younger and athletic at the same time. We feel we did that."
NOTES, QUOTES
Right-hander David Aardsma, who had been designated for assignment to clear a roster spot for Dotel, was dealt to the Red Sox for minor-league RHPs Willy Mota, 22, and Miguel Socolovich, 23. Mota was 5-3 with a 2.60 ERA for short-season Lowell in '07 after spending three seasons in the low minors as an outfielder. Socolovich was a combined 7-6 with a 4.30 ERA for Lowell and low Class A Greenville.
Dotel, 34, had 2005 reconstructive elbow surgery and some muscle injuries last year. Williams said Dotel passed all of the team's tests with "flying colors." That's why he is not blinking at paying the right-hander $5 million in 2008 and $6 million next season. "I feel better than before (the surgery)," Dotel insisted. He also said he expects a serious turnaround by the Sox bullpen. "I don't think that what happened last year is going to happen this year," he continued. "They have a good team, and Chicago getting to the World Series is why I signed with them."
Williams isn't counting out speedy OF Jerry Owens, who hit .267 with 32 stolen bases last season, including a .284 average after his second promotion from the minors on July 3. It appears that Jermaine Dye and Nick Swisher have cemented at least two spots, while Alexei Ramirez, Carlos Quentin and Owens battle for the third outfield spot. Owens' muddled situation is why the team doesn't know who will hit leadoff on Opening Day. "(Manager Ozzie Guillen) probably doesn't even have an answer for that right now because he has to see how Jerry Owens comes to camp," Williams said. "We also have the option of putting a (Orlando) Cabrera up there or a (Danny) Richar or if Ramirez comes in and challenges for second base."
INF/OF Pablo Ozuna has shown no signs of the fractured right fibula that ended his 2007 season after 27 games. He is expected to arrive into spring camp ready to go 100 percent and challenge for at least a role as a key reserve. "He's coming along really well," Williams said. "He's running without a limp and coming along well. As we sit here today, and I just met with (head trainer) Herm Schneider, we don't have anyone arriving in camp with restrictions on them."
Third base remains a murky situation with Gold Glove candidate Joe Crede coming off back surgery and set for free agency after this season and young Josh Fields ready to play every day. "I'm still taking calls from people," Williams said of the Crede-Fields situation. "We're making calls. We'll continue doing that in spring training. There is no timetable on the third-base issue. We have two talented guys there. We are certainly going to look at all possibilities, but I don't have a timetable for it."
RHP Mike MacDougal had a dismal 2007 (2-5 and 6.80 ERA in 54 games). The Sox believe he can turn things around because he no longer will be asked to be the eighth-inning bridge to closer Bobby Jenks. "Mike MacDougal has some of the best stuff in the league," Williams said. "All he has to do is rebound in the form of throwing more quality strikes. Now he doesn't have to be that bridge guy and carry that load."
BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- Number of years Paul Konerko has hit 30 or more homers after mashing 31 last season. It is the second-longest streak in Sox history; Frank Thomas did it for five consecutive years from 1993-97.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When you sit in this chair ... I've traded away or elected not to re-sign some players that fans have become accustomed to or made their favorites. That will always be. All I can do is get up there and answer the questions. You try to do the best you can. People have questions and I'll give them answers, and I'll give them to them straight." -- GM Ken Williams on taking heat from fans for what was a perceived lack of adding enough to the roster.
ROSTER REPORT
Williams finally did land the outfielder he hopes will improve the 2008 lineup, acquiring Nick Swisher from Oakland for three minor-leaguers on Jan. 3. Williams started the offseason strongly by acquiring Orlando Cabrera and signing free agent Scott Linebrink. After those two in November, he missed out on free agents Torii Hunter, Kosuke Fukudome and Aaron Rowand and fell short in a trade attempt for Miguel Cabrera during the winter meetings.
ARRIVALS: SS Orlando Cabrera (trade with Angels), RHP Scott Linebrink (free agent from Brewers), OF Carlos Quentin (trade with Diamondbacks), OF/1B Nick Swisher (trade with Athletics), RHP Octavio Dotel (free agent from Braves), INF/OF Alexei Ramirez (free agent from Cuba).
DEPARTURES: RHP Jon Garland (traded to Angels), OF/1B Darin Erstad (free agent to Astros), OF Ryan Sweeney (traded to Athletics), RHP David Aardsma (traded to Red Sox).
FREE AGENTS: LHPs Mike Myers and Heath Phillips, OF Scott Podsednik, INFs Alex Cintron and Andy Gonzalez. Myers had a club option and was allowed to walk. Podsednik and Cintron were both arbitration-eligible, but the Sox allowed waived them. Phillips was designated for assignment after Quentin was acquired.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: None remaining. The Sox and 3B Joe Crede struck a one-year, $5.1 million deal for the 2008 season before the arbitration filing deadline. Crede, however, is a free agent after this season, and the Sox still might trade him once he shows that he has recovered from season-ending back surgery.
IN LIMBO: Jon Garland and Jose Contreras were both trade possibilities this winter, and Garland was moved for Cabrera on Nov. 19. Crede is the latest target on the roster that could be traded, along with outfielder Brian Anderson, who appears to be the odd man out with the acquisition of Nick Swisher.
MEDICAL WATCH: 3B Joe Crede (back surgery) is in the second stage of his rehab phase, is swinging a bat and is still expected to be 100 percent by spring training. OF/INF Pablo Ozuna (fractured right fibula) has been participating in baseball activity in the Dominican Republic and is expected to be ready by February.

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DETROIT TIGERS
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The Tigers can live with stripping their farm system of prospects to get a loaded major league roster. But if they need help from the minors, they might have some limitations.
Team officials believe they'll be OK for rotation help if starters are forced to miss turns. Zach Miner or Jason Grilli could come out of the bullpen with enough notice. Jordan Tata and Virgil Vasquez, who have major league experience, could be summoned from the minors. Aquilino Lopez provided short-term bullpen help several times last season and is getting a spring training invite this year. At some point, injured Joel Zumaya could return, too.
Outfielder Timo Perez was a big help last September and has signed a two-way minor league contract to be available this year, too. Utility player Ryan Raburn might be optioned to the minors one more time, especially if Detroit is unable to deal Brandon Inge.
The Tigers have shortstop Ramon Santiago in case something happens to a middle infielder, but minor league infield help is limited to Mike Hessman, rookies Scott Sizemore and Michael Hollimon. Shortstop Brent Dlugach, coming off an injury, might be able to play by May.
None approach the caliber of the Tigers' top two prospects, center fielder Cameron Maybin or left-hander Andrew Miller, who were traded to Florida for third baseman Miguel Cabrera and left-hander Dontrelle Willis.
NOTES, QUOTES
Outfielder Timo Perez, who hit .414 for Detroit in September as a replacement for injured DH Gary Sheffield, is one of 21 players invited to major league spring training. Perez, 33 in April, batted .389 overall in 90 at-bats for Detroit. He played a lot of left field but is also capable of playing the other outfield positions. He was designated for assignment at the end of the season to clear a roster space but later was signed to a two-way contract.
SS Tony Giarratano is looking at shoulder surgery for the second consecutive spring and could be sidelined for the third straight year. Giarratano missed 2007 after labrum surgery and re-injured his right shoulder recently. Director of minor league operations Dan Lunetta does not expect him to be ready for spring training. "I would certainly say that it creates some significant concern," Lunetta said. "We're in the process of getting a complete medical diagnosis and then a prognosis on where this may lead. It's something we're evaluating on a day-to-day basis, as is Tony." Giarratano, 25, missed the second half of 2006 after right knee ACL surgery.
RHP Aquilino Lopez, 33 in April, spent much of 2007 closing for Detroit's Class AAA Toledo farm club. He was brought up several times to fill in and posted a 5.19 ERA with one save in 10 games, allowing 18 hits over 17 1/3 innings with six walks and seven strikeouts.
Ex-Indians RHP Francisco Cruceta is one of two chief contenders for the bullpen spot of injured RHP Joel Zumaya. Cruceta impressed in winter ball after a strong comeback in Class AAA following a 50-game suspension for violating the minor-league ban on steroids. He had a 3.02 ERA, though he walked two more batters than the 38 hits he gave up 65 2/3 innings. Cruceta has an excellent split-finger but must come up with something to offset that pitch and his fastball. Improving his control will also be essential.
RHP Denny Bautista has a chance to fill in for Zumaya despite a career 6.93 ERA because too many of his high-90s fastballs are hittable. He had a 12.46 ERA in limited time with Colorado in '07, but was 3-2 with a 2.92 ERA at Class AAA Colorado Springs. "You're not going to find many better arms than his," GM Dave Dombrowski said. "This guy touches 100 at times. I got a call from a couple of organizations afterward asking, 'How'd you pull that off?'"
BY THE NUMBERS: 21 -- Non-roster players the Tigers are inviting to major league spring training next month. Of those, six are catchers and only two (OF Timo Perez and RHP Aquilino Lopez) appeared in a game for Detroit last season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have every intention of working in that direction." -- Tigers vice president John Westhoff on Detroit's intention to get 3B Miguel Cabrera signed to a long-term contract.
ROSTER REPORT
Detroit created immediate high expectations with the addition of 3B Miguel Cabrera and LHP Dontrelle Willis without giving up anyone who figured to play a significant role in 2008. Brandon Inge, forced off third base by the acquisition of Cabrera, wants to be dealt so he can play full time somewhere, but the Tigers might end up making him a high-priced super-sub for lack of a suitable suitor. Willis filled out the rotation along with the re-signing of free agent LHP Kenny Rogers. Four of the five starters (Rogers being the exception) are signed or controlled through 2010.
Re-signing RHP Todd Jones as the closer eliminated a chief need that arose when RHP Joel Zumaya was forced out until at least midseason by shoulder surgery. The acquisition of LF Jacque Jones added a decent left-handed outfield bat to the lineup. The club solved its shortstop problem with the acquisition of SS Edgar Renteria to facilitate the shift of Carlos Guillen to first base. Detroit gambled RHP Francisco Cruceta can provide a cheap, viable alternative to a high-priced late inning reliever.
ARRIVALS: SS Edgar Renteria (trade with Braves), OF Jacque Jones (trade with Cubs), RHP Denny Bautista (trade with Rockies), 3B Miguel Cabrera and LHP Dontrelle Willis (trade with Marlins), OF Freddy Guzman (trade with Rangers).
DEPARTURES: RHP Jair Jurrjens (traded to Braves), INF Omar Infante (traded to Cubs), RHP Jose Capellan (traded to Rockies), LHP Andrew Miller, CF Cameron Maybin and C Mike Rabelo (traded to Marlins), 1B Chris Shelton (traded to Rangers), RHP Chad Durbin (free agent to Phillies).
FREE AGENTS: 1B Sean Casey, INF Neifi Perez. Neither were offered 2008 contracts.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: None remaining. Cabrera agreed to a one-year deal worth $11.3 million, and LHP Bobby Seay signed for $780,000. Willis and LHP Nate Robertson signed three-year contracts, RHP Tim Byrdak signed a $700,000 one-year deal and LF-1B Marcus Thames agreed to a $1.25 million, one-year deal. INF Ramon Santiago was an early subtraction from the list when he agreed to a split contract. LF Timo Perez was designated for assignment (pushed off the roster by acquisition of OF Jacque Jones) but re-signed a split contract.
IN LIMBO: 3B Brandon Inge asked to be traded after the acquisition of Cabrera and the Tigers agreed to try, though they don't feel they have to give him away. Inge could return to catcher and be a backup at many positions. UT Ryan Raburn, with an option remaining, might have to go to the minors if the Tigers can't trade Inge. OF Marcus Thames signed for one year, but the Tigers might try to trade him if they decide he's too high-priced to be a part-timer. C Vance Wilson doesn't know if he'll be able to throw well enough to catch early in the spring.
MEDICAL WATCH: RHP Joel Zumaya (right shoulder AC joint surgery) has recaptured 95 percent of his range of motion and hopes to begin light throwing by early February, but will be out until at least midseason; C Vance Wilson (Tommy John surgery) reports progress, but doesn't know whether he'll be able to throw with any authority by the end of spring training; DH Gary Sheffield (right shoulder surgery) continues rehabilitating and should be able to hit when spring training begins; RHP Jeremy Bonderman (right elbow strain) has been strengthening his forearm and elbow muscles and says he feels good; LHP Kenny Rogers (left elbow) is working more on arm and shoulder strength than throwing; RF Magglio Ordonez (sore left heel) says he's ready.

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KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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At the end of the 2007 season, the Royals had 11 arbitration-eligible players, but that number has dwindled to two.
The Royals avoided arbitration with first baseman-outfielder Ross Gload by signing him to a two-year contract for $3.2 million with a club option of $2.6 million for 2110. Gload earned $625,000 in 2007.
Catcher John Buck, who led the club with 18 home runs, signed for $2.2 million. Buck, the starting catcher for the past 3 1/2 seasons since he was acquired in the Carlos Beltran trade, made $440,000 last year.
Jorge De La Rosa, who was 8-12 with a 5.82 ERA in 2007, signed for $1.025 million after making $417,000 last year. He could also make $25,000 each for 24, 26, 28 and 30 starts in 2008. He made 23 starts and three relief appearances last season.
Utility player Esteban German settled on Jan. 29 for a reported $1 million in 2008. German, who hit .262 in 121 games as a utility player last season, filed for $1.2 million, while the club checked in at $837,000. German made $423,000 last year.
The two still eligible for arbitration hearings in February are outfielder Mark Teahen and right-hander Zack Greinke. Teahen, who made $416,000 in 2007, is seeking $2.9 million, while the club offered $1.9 million. Greinke, who made $407,000 in 2007, asked for $1.8 million, while the club countered with $1.1 million.
NOTES, QUOTES
Right-hander Brett Tomko was signed to a one-year, $3 million contract to be the fourth starter. He had a miserable 2007 -- 2-11 with a 5.80 ERA for the Dodgers before they designated him for assignment, then signed with the Padres and went 2-1 with a 4.61 ERA in seven games, including four starts. "We like his veteran presence and feel like that there's more that he can do to improve and be more consistent," Royals GM Dayton Moore said. "He's always been an innings-eater, somebody who has always taken the ball. He's been injury free. He's a tremendous worker. The other part is if he doesn't win a spot or at some point in time we feel like we've got other alternatives in the rotation that can help us, he's that power arm from the right side out of the bullpen that can be very dominant. He's proven he can do that. Last year in 27 innings with the Padres, he struck out 26 and walked five down the stretch. I like his versatility."
DH Mike Sweeney, who has spent his entire career with the Royals since they drafted him in 1991 and is a career .299 hitter in 11-plus years in the majors, almost certainly won't be back. "We'd never say never to anything with Mike, but right now the way we're set up it doesn't appear to be," Moore said. "There could be some possibilities that unfold that I'm not aware of right now. Mike is certainly still out there. Right now it doesn't look like there is a strong fit."
RHP Brian Lawrence, who won 37 games from 2002-04 with the Padres and pitched most of last season in the Mets organization, signed a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. He was 1-2 with a 6.83 ERA in six starts with New York. He missed the 2006 season with a torn labrum and rotator cuff.
RHP Luke Hudson, who made one start last year before needing shoulder surgery, could be behind others in camp. "Luke is probably somebody we'll go a little slower with in spring training, make sure he's 100 percent healthy before he starts competing for a job," Moore said.
The bus the Royals used for their winter caravan through Kansas used to belong to the rock group ZZ Top. There was a Z on the door of the bus.
With the signings of Tomko and Lawrence, the Royals are probably finished making additions before spring training. "There's nothing on the horizon," Moore said. "I don't see any opportunities out there. We'll just evaluate in spring training. We could add a non-roster guy, but there's nothing that I'm aware of today. I think for the most part we're pretty well set."
BY THE NUMBERS: 19 -- Non-roster players the Royals have invited to big-league spring training.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You're always massaging your roster and making improvements until you win the World Series. Right now, I feel like we've improved our team on paper. That's what we're directed to." -- GM Dayton Moore on his offseason moves.
ROSTER REPORT
The Royals signed free agent OF Jose Guillen to address their need for a run-producer in the middle of their lineup. First base is wide open going into spring training.
ARRIVALS: RHP Yasuhiko Yabuta (free agent from Japan), OF Jose Guillen (free agent from Mariners), INF Alberto Callaspo (trade with Diamondbacks), LHP Ron Mahay (free agent from Braves), C Miguel Olivo (free agent from Marlins), RHP Brett Tomko (free agent from Padres), RHP Brian Lawrence (free agent from Mets).
DEPARTURES: C Jason LaRue (free agent to Cardinals), RHP David Riske (free agent to Brewers), RHP Billy Buckner (traded to Diamondbacks), OF Emil Brown (free agent to A's).
FREE AGENTS: LHP Odalis Perez, OF Reggie Sanders, DH Mike Sweeney, RHP John Thomson. If Sweeney does return, it would be for a fraction of the $11 million he earned last season, the final year of a five-year, $55 million contract, and probably as a role player. His health remains a major concern. The Royals have zero to minimal interest in the others.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: OF Mark Teahen, RHP Zack Greinke.
IN LIMBO: CF David DeJesus could be prime trade bait if the Royals deem speedy Joey Gathright capable of being an everyday center fielder and if they could get a young power hitter or a starting pitcher in return.
MEDICAL WATCH: RHP Luke Hudson (right shoulder surgery in June 2007) and 1B Ryan Shealy (limited to 52 games in 2007 by hamstring injuries) should be ready by spring training.

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MINNESOTA TWINS
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Too little, too late?
That's the question being asked of the Twins after they agreed to deal ace left-hander Johan Santana to the New York Mets for four minor-leaguers. If Santana and the Mets can agree on a contract extension and the lefty passes a physical, Minnesota would receive right-handers Philip Humber, Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey and outfielder Carlos Gomez.
All are considered prospects, yet the Twins reportedly were offered more established players for Santana this winter. The Red Sox allegedly made two offers, one including World Series hero Jacoby Ellsbury, a Johnny Damon-type, top-of-the-order hitter; the other including promising left-hander Jon Lester. The Yankees were said to have offered a package featuring touted right-hander Phil Hughes and big-league outfielder Melky Cabrera.
Instead, the Twins will have to hope that some or all of the former Mets farmhands prove the critics wrong.
The most immediate impact might come from Gomez, who will get a shot to replace Torii Hunter in center field. The 22-year-old stole 12 bases in 15 chances with the Mets in 2007 after stealing 19 in Class AAA. He had a combined 105 steals in the two previous seasons while playing in Class A and Class AA. Gomez is a .278 career minor league hitter who has yet to display much power.
Humber, 25, has appeared briefly in the majors the past two years. A first-round draft pick in 2004, he is 13-16 with a 4.11 ERA in three minor league seasons.
Mulvey, 22, spent the bulk of last season in Class AA, going 11-10 with a 3.32 ERA for Binghamton. Guerra, 18, spent last season in Class A, finishing 2-6 with a 4.01 ERA in 21 games (20 starts).
NOTES, QUOTES
The Twins will have a new ballpark soon -- and a good idea of who will play in it.
Perhaps signaling a change in the team's budget-obsessed approach, Minnesota has locked up two cornerstones of the team's lineup for its new park by signing former American League MVP Justin Morneau to a six-year contract and right fielder Michael Cuddyer to a deal that could cover four seasons. Along with the four-year deal that Joe Mauer signed last spring, the Twins can now project the heart of their order to be intact when the their new downtown Minneapolis park opens in 2010.
Morneau's contract -- the largest in Twins franchise history -- pays him a total of roughly $75 million and buys out the first three seasons of his potential free agency.
Cuddyer's $36 million deal, for three seasons with a team option for a fourth, gives the Twins control of the first two seasons of his free agent eligibility.
Morneau had agreed to a one-year contract of $7.5 million for 2008, and his new deal incorporates that contract. Cuddyer's extension settles his arbitration case; the fourth-year major-leaguer had asked for $6.2 million, and the Twins were offering $4.7 million. Cuddyer, who already has played three infield positions for the Twins, might have to move again if the team doesn't acquire an adequate center fielder, manager Ron Gardenhire said. Cuddyer, who led the major leagues in outfield assists last season, might be asked to move to center field for a season, the manager said, "if we don't have any other options. ... It's something I've given some thought to, and I'll talk to Cuddy about it."
RHP Matt Guerrier, who a week earlier had fretted that "I don't think we're very close" in negotiations, settled for $950,000 on Jan. 24. That's the halfway point of his arbitration filing of $1.1 million and the Twins' offer of $750,000 and more than doubles Guerrier's 2007 salary of $407,000.
OF Jason Kubel, who signed a $1.3 million contract a week earlier, became a father Jan. 23 with the birth of Owen Michael Kubel to his wife, Blake. The 8-pound, 4-ounce son is Kubel's first child.
Minnesota's new $390 million ballpark is "significantly" over budget, according to Twins Sports president Jerry Bell, but the team has decided to increase its contribution to the project rather than cut any planned amenities. Material and construction prices have risen faster than anticipated, Bell said, and the project faced an extra hurdle when it was discovered that the site, apparently a former riverbed, would require more than 3,000 piles to be dug in to anchor the structure.
RHP Rick Aguilera, the Twins' all-time save leader, has been elected to the Twins' Hall of Fame. Aguilera, who piled up 254 saves in 11 seasons with the Twins, becomes the 19th member of the hall. He will be inducted in a ceremony on June 21.
BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- number of prospects received from Mets in pending deal for Johan Santana.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There are question marks up and down in this rotation, and you just really don't know what you are going to get," -- pitching coach Rick Anderson on the impending loss of Santana.
ROSTER REPORT
The Twins received little offense at third base, designated hitter and (after the July 31 trade of Luis Castillo) second base, and have lost CF Torii Hunter, their most consistent hitter in 2007. The acquisitions of OF Delmon Young and 3B Mike Lamb could provide help at the plate. Minnesota also could use a veteran to mix in among the young pitchers dominating their rotation.
ARRIVALS: OF Craig Monroe (trade with Cubs), OF Delmon Young, INF Brendan Harris (trade with Rays), SS Adam Everett, 3B Mike Lamb (free agents from Astros).
DEPARTURES: INF Luis Rodriguez (waivers to Padres), OF Torii Hunter (free agent to Angels), RHP Matt Garza and SS Jason Bartlett (traded to Rays), RHP Carlos Silva (free agent to Mariners).
FREE AGENTS: OFs Rondell White and Jason Tyner. White is expected to retire.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: None remaining.
IN LIMBO: A member of their collection of cheap starters -- Scott Baker, Boof Bonser, Glen Perkins, Nate Blackburn and Kevin Slowey -- could be packaged for a veteran hitter. Closer Joe Nathan, a year from free agency, reportedly has been shopped around. And with the Twins apparently deciding they can't afford LHP Johan Santana, whose contract expires in a year, it looks as if the two-time Cy Young Award winner is going to the Mets.
MEDICAL WATCH: C Joe Mauer (hernia) didn't have surgery and should be healthy at the start of spring training as are LHP Francisco Liriano (Tommy John surgery in November 2006), LHP Dennys Reyes (torn left triceps) and RHP Jesse Crain (right shoulder surgery in May 2007).

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