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MLB Free Agency: 5 Starting Pitchers the Minnesota Twins Should Go After

The Minnesota Twins have a lot on their plate this winter. As they ponder a dive into MLB Free Agency, general manager Terry Ryan needs to decide whether Joe Mauer is their 2014 catcher, if they really can trust Brian Dozier at second base and if some of the bright prospects in the organization are ready for the leap to Minneapolis.

However, there is one glaring need that must be addressed.

This would be the team’s starting pitching, who’s performance has been enjoyable as a trip to the dentist in recent seasons. In 2013, the Twins ranked last in starting rotation ERA a year after finishing a “respectable” 29th.

While they did see a numerical improvement in that area, it’s time to realize the Twins have a pitching problem and must find a way to fix it.

Conventional wisdom says that the Twins will try to make a trade instead of throwing money at the problem, but the Twins do not have many major league assets. They could dive into their rich minor league system as well, but the pieces teams are likely asking for represent key parts of the team’s future.

Ryan has to make a run in the free-agent market, and it can’t be the team’s traditional approach of high-risk, medium-reward signings. The Twins need legitimate starting pitching and they need it now without crossing their fingers that somebody can repeat a fluky career year.

Here’s a look at some guys that the Twins should be looking at once free agency commences.

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Minnesota Twins: 5 Reasons Why Their Future Is Still Bright

The Minnesota Twins are well on their way to their third straight October off, and the fans in Twins Territory are not happy.

With the trade of Justin Morneau to the Pirates and with Joe Mauer’s slow recovery from a concussion, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for the team as they trot out a lineup in which Brian Dozier is supposed to be their main source of power.

Yet, as the Twins go into another cold and dark offseason, there may be brighter days on the horizon.

Many know about the growing strength of the lower levels of the organization, but even at the major league level there are reasons for growing optimism for a team that’s fallen on hard times.

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Minnesota Twins: Are Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau Headed for the Hall of Fame?

Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are two players who will be prominently featured in the history of the Minnesota Twins. Each has won an MVP award, but together they’ve been vital cogs in what has been a banner period for the franchise, with six division championships in nine years during the 2000s.

Despite their record of success together, nobody knows if the two will someday shake hands in Cooperstown or if they’ll both be members of the Twins Hall of Fame (which I assume will someday be added onto a wing of Target Field.)

However, the two players’ careers have certainly headed in different directions.

Mauer has taken the role of the face of the franchise after signing his massive contract extension prior to the 2010 season. Despite the bickering of some fans, he has mostly performed at a high level, with the exception of the 2011 season, which was largely lost due to injury.

As a catcher, Mauer has won three American League batting championships. There are few players who can take claim to three batting titles, but nobody can say they did it behind the plate in the AL, as Mauer was the first to even win one, let alone three.

Mauer’s defense has propelled him to win three Gold Gloves. That’s a big reason why despite the bilateral leg weakness and a recent concussion, the Twins refuse to move him from behind the plate.

When it comes to catchers, it simply doesn’t get any better than the St. Paul product in his 10 seasons with the Twins.

We know we’ll see Mauer enshrined in the Hall of Fame someday, but what about his partner in crime, Morneau?

Morneau got off to a slow start in his first full season in 2005, but he took off after the midway point of the 2006 season, which saw him win his only MVP award to date. Winning one is an incredible accomplishment for any player, but it’s staggering when you consider that he could have been a three-time winner.

The Twins overachieved in the 2008 season, and Morneau was a big reason for that, hitting .300 with 23 home runs and 129 RBI. An MVP award was possible, but the team fell to the Chicago White Sox in a one-game playoff for the division championship, and the nation fell in love with Dustin “The Little Guy” Pedroia so much that voters leaned toward the Boston Red Sox’s second baseman.

Morneau also was on his way to an incredible season in 2010 with a career-high .345 average and 18 home runs in his first 81 games of the season, but that’s where his turn for the worse began after taking a knee to the head from Aaron Hill on July 7.

Before the injury, Morneau enjoyed a stretch between 2006 and 2010 where he dominated the American League and had a line of .298/.372/.528 with 136 home runs and 526 RBI. Since his return in 2011, those numbers have declined to .257/.318/.411 with 38 home runs and 79 RBI in roughly three seasons.

Does a five-year stretch get a player into the Hall of Fame? I don’t believe so.

If it were up to me, I would put Morneau in the Hall of Pretty Good. He was a leader for the Twins and will probably have his No. 33 jersey retired by the club someday, but he’s an example of what could have been if it weren’t for his laundry list of injuries.

Chris Schad is a Minnesota Twins Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. His work has also been featured on the Yahoo! Contributor Network and Pro Football Spot. You can follow Chris on Twitter @crishad.

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2013 MLB Draft: Latest Expert Predictions on Who the Minnesota Twins Will Select

The Minnesota Twins‘ process of rebuilding their farm system will take another giant step next week when Major League Baseball conducts it’s annual June amateur entry draft.

A year ago, the Twins hit on many of their picks as Byron Buxton, Adam Brett Walker and D.J. Baxendale have had tremendous seasons in the lower levels of the Twins’ system.

In order for the team to turn around its fortunes at the major league level, it will need to have a similar draft to provide hope and depth at several positions of need.

To do that, the Twins will explore several options at the fourth overall pick and hopefully land a similar impact player like they did by drafting Buxton second overall a season ago.

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MLB: Ranking the Top 10 Under-the-Radar Players in the AL Central

In Major League Baseball, teams need a superstar to carry them into contention. But what if the superstar is enduring a painful slump? Or what if the team isn’t developed enough to have a legitimate superstar?

That’s where having a solid, under-the-radar player on the roster can pay dividends.

There are several of these players in the American League Central that help make an impact for their teams through breakout years or solid play.

Here’s a look at some of the top players who have made a contribution that’s not noticed by most baseball fans.

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MLB: Picking the Early Breakout Stars of the American League Central

April is a tricky month to figure out the game of baseball. Usually, fields are thawing from the absurd amount of snow they’ve received while the players have the same time trying to live up to their offseason hype.

In the American League Central, that comparison is accurate to what’s going on in the division.

Behind the Detroit Tigers, who are the heavy favorite to win the division, the other teams in the central have spent time trying to figure out who they are.

That has led to some players coming out of nowhere to carry their teams to unexpected starts. It also has seen some highly regarded veterans showing that their best is yet to come.

Here are some players who have turned themselves into household names during the first two weeks of the season.

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Minnesota Twins: Why Twins Fans Should Stop Whining About a Cold Opening Day

In 2010, the Minnesota Twins introduced Major League Baseball to Target Field. The new stadium replaced the dump that was the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome as the home for the franchise.

It’s been hard to get a ticket to a Twins game since, as the team ranked 12th in the major leagues in total attendance in 2012, according to ESPN.

The reception for the ballpark has been great, even when the product on the field hasn’t. ESPN Magazine called Target Field the best stadium in North America in their 2010 Ultimate Standings. The stadium dropped to 13th in 2012, but it still has its reputation as one of the best in baseball.

Still, with all of the accolades, some Twins fans have a problem with the crown jewel of downtown Minneapolis:

It’s too cold in April.

Twins fans are beginning to moan as the team has their first season opener at Target Field on Monday because The Weather Channel forecast is calling for a high of 36 degrees with winds approaching 15 miles per hour.

I think Twins fans are missing the point.

They’re Midwesterners.

Whether they are from Minnesota, North Dakota or Iowa, the cold weather shouldn’t affect them when they plan to see the pageantry that is Opening Day for the Minnesota Twins.

The Twins may have a rough season overall, but Monday’s game has a lot to offer.

Aaron Hicks will make his major league debut in center field. The first-round pick in the 2008 MLB Entry Draft has had a slow rise to the top, but he beat out Darin Mastroianni and Joe Benson to show Twins fans what the future could be like with fellow top prospects following his lead.

The Twins will also throw out one of their new starting pitchers in Vance Worley.

While Worley won’t blow anyone away or compete for any Cy Young awards in the near future, he was one of the key moves for the Twins as he came over from Philadelphia in the Ben Revere trade.

Like Hicks, he also represents the future of the ballclub as the team expects him to be a solid mid-rotation starter.

And if optimism doesn’t get everyone racing out to the frigid confines of Target Field, maybe the best pitcher in all of baseball will, as Justin Verlander will take the mound for the Detroit Tigers.

But Twins fans shouldn’t need on-field motivation to come out and see the 2013 season opener.

Other cold-weather cities such as New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh will host Opening Day, and it’s a good bet that none of them are reacting as if there’s a large, shirtless man in the back of the stadium professing his love for Joe Mauer. (That would be pure horror, in case you’re wondering.)

For years, Minnesotans braved frigid temperatures at Met Stadium in Bloomington to watch the Twins and the Minnesota Vikings. Many of them are still here to tell stories about it today, so it’s a good bet that those who do endure the elements on Monday will have a good time.

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Minnesota Twins: 5 Storylines to Watch in Spring Training

The end of the National Football League season means that the sports calendar is about to give way to Major League Baseball.

This is the time of year when baseball fans’ minds start to cut through the clutter of sub-zero temperatures and blowing snow to find green grass, blue skies and warmer climates.

By the time that the last strand of confetti is swept off of the turf of the Super Bowl, optimism springs in the minds of fans across MLB‘s 30 teams, thinking that their team can be this year’s surprise team.

That optimism may be hard to come by for the Minnesota Twins, who are coming off of their second straight season at the bottom of the American League Central standings.

It’s been a cold winter under the watch of Terry Ryan, who has sent both Denard Span and Ben Revere packing while restocking a farm system that desperately needed an overhaul.

That’s good news for the future of the franchise, but 2013 can be a bumpy ride if there’s no help on the horizon.

Despite the doom and gloom that’s surrounding the Twins, there are still several storylines to keep an eye on, as the team heads to Fort Myers for the 22nd time to prepare for the season opener against the Detroit Tigers on April 1.

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Minnesota Twins: How Alex Meyer Can Already Impact the Twins in 2013

Minnesota Twins prospect Alex Meyer has a tall order on his hands as he attempts to climb the ladder for his new team in 2013.

As the prospect sent over from the Washington Nationals in the Denard Span trade, Meyer was the 23rd overall pick in the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft.

Between Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac, he went 10-6 with a 2.86 earned run average in a performance that will make him a top-100 prospect on many lists this spring.

With Meyer expected to begin the season at Double-A New Britain, it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to crack the major league rotation.

However, Meyer will already make an impact in 2013 at the major league level even if he doesn’t debut for the Twins.

Meyer has assumed the position of the top pitching prospect in the Twins’ farm system. For a system that used to be loaded with young talent, Minnesota has fallen on hard times.

The Twins haven’t had a premier pitching prospect race through the system since Matt Garza was selected 25th overall in the 2005 June Amateur Draft and debuted just 14 months later.

(Note: Current prospect Kyle Gibson was on a similar track in 2011, but had to be shut down after needing Tommy John surgery at the end of that season.)

If Meyer can pick up where he left off in the Nationals’ system, there’s a chance that he could make his major league debut sooner than anybody expected.

An early debut for Meyer would put pressure on the major league rotation all season long.

In 2012, the Twins finished 14th in the American League with an earned run average of 4.77. Such an awful performance by the team’s veteran starters suggests that no spot in the starting rotation is safe heading into this season.

A slow start will get the veterans looking over their shoulder if Meyer can make an early charge at the beginning of the season.

But what if the rotation is better than expected and the Twins become the surprise team of 2013? Then Alex Meyer becomes their secret weapon.

More pitching prospects are starting to make their debut out of the bullpen despite being considered high-ceiling starting pitchers. Neftali Feliz, Adam Wainwright and Matt Moore all made their major league debuts out of the bullpen in recent years.

With a 9.7 strikeout-per-nine ratio in 2012, the Twins will have to give serious thought to using Meyer out of the bullpen in intense situations if it means capturing the American League Central Championship.

All of this assumes that both Meyer and the Twins have a healthy and successful season. But with Meyer’s track record, it can be assumed that he’ll continue his rise toward the major league club and at the least have some people looking over their shoulders in 2013. 

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Minnesota Twins: 5 Mega-Trades They Should Consider for Joe Mauer

The Minnesota Twins are in a position where they need to make moves to improve the active roster. In such situations, a team may decide to trade their biggest piece in order to make a quick upgrade.

On the surface, the Twins may not have that piece. However, that could change if they decide to make Joe Mauer available.

The 29-year old catcher has had difficulties staying on the field over the past two seasons and may be considered damaged goods by some teams. Still, he has a bat that teams covet at the catcher position and could provide an immediate upgrade for any lineup.

With a $23 million salary due through 2018, the Twins will need to pay a team a fair amount in order for a trade to work.

Minnesota will also need to get either an impact player or high quality prospects to restock their meager farm system.

With that, here are five trades the Twins could explore if they wish to put Joe Mauer on the trading block. 

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