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Twins biggest winners at winter meetings

GM Ryan made right call in trading Span and Revere for solid rotation prospects

Phil Rogers

On Baseball

6:14 PM CST, December 8, 2012

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Terry Ryan has nothing against free-agent outfielder Michael Bourn. Honest.

But the general manager knows his Twins aren't going to compete again in the American League Central — Joe Mauer or no Joe Mauer — until they fix a starting rotation that in the last three years has dropped from 11th in the majors to 29th in ERA, ranking in the bottom five three of the last four years.

''We want the kind of pitchers we haven't had enough of," Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Pitchers who can miss bats."

Things looked so bleak at the end of 2012 that the Red Sox felt the time was right to try to steal .323 career hitter Mauer. They offered Ryan a chance to offload the $138 million left on the eight-year contract he received as Target Field was opening but were told no.

Ryan wasn't eager to get the Jeffrey Loria treatment from the fans who were so happy to see him come out of a short-lived retirement. He knew he had to do something and he did, trading 24-year-old outfielder Ben Revere to the Phillies and 28-year-old outfielder Denard Span to the Nationals.

In exchange, he landed three pitchers who could form the core of a rebuilt rotation by the end of next season. Vance Worley — aka the Vanimal — is expected to be ready to start the season after surgery to repair bone chips in his elbow, and Trevor May and Alex Meyer could join him later in the season. Factor in 2009 first-round pick Kyle Gibson, who seems on the threshold after a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, and the college arm that the Twins are almost certain to take with the fourth overall pick next June (Mark Appel, Ryne Stanek or Sean Manaea) and the Twins will have a rotation they hope they can contend behind.

Ryan traded Span to the Nationals for the 6-foot-9 Meyer on Nov. 29 and sent Revere to the Phillies on Thursday, just before teams headed home from the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn.

As it turns out, the Nats and the Phils were the teams most interested in Bourn, the speed-power igniter who helped the Braves win 94 games last season. They opted to sacrifice pitching for younger players with similar skills rather than meet Scott Boras' asking price for Bourn.

Is there another team willing to give Bourn $15 million a year for four or five years? Maybe, but some executives were seeing Bourn, who'll turn 30 on Dec. 27, as a candidate to sign a one-year contract. There's no question that he was the biggest loser at the winter meetings, and it says here Ryan and the Twins were the biggest winners.

In the style of Waylon and Willie, here're the other winners and losers from five days in Nashville that could have had Mumford and Sons' "Unfinished Business'' as their theme song.

Yankees, Pierzynski losers: The Yankees hit town amid the reports Alex Rodriguez would need hip surgery, exacerbating roster problems that include Derek Jeter's recovery from ankle surgery and the loss of free agents Russell Martin, Eric Chavez and Nick Swisher, as well possibly as Rafael Soriano and Raul Ibanez.

Team President Randy Levine hasn't relaxed his stance on being below the tax threshold for the 2014 season, so Brian Cashman is left operating like a small-market GM.

A.J. Pierzynski would be a good fit, but Cashman insists he's sticking to internal catching options (Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli and prospect Austin Romine, whose back problems have slowed his development). Pierzynski is left hoping the Rays come rescue him.

Keppinger, White Sox winners: Jeff Keppinger is a skilled hitter who has more career walks than strikeouts. He had an .806 OPS last season for the Rays and has played for six teams in eight seasons. He can establish himself as a long-term regular after signing for three years and $12 million, a deal ESPN's Keith Law praised because "they're paying him a below-regular salary and he's better than any in-house options at third.''

The Yankees offered more, but Keppinger knew he would be squeezed out when Rodriguez returns.

Goldstein, Freiman winners: A DeKalb resident who taught himself how to scout while attending Kane County Cougars games, the chapeau-wearing Kevin Goldstein covered the 2011 Rule 5 draft for Baseball Prospectus. He was calling the shots for the Astros this time as GM Jeff Luhnow's unconventional pro scouting director.

The Astros joined the Marlins in making two picks in the major league portion, landing Nate Freiman, a power-hitting first baseman, and reliever Josh Fields. Freiman needs a strong spring to jump from Double A to Bo Porter's Astros lineup.

Angels, Wilson losers: When the Angels traded for Zack Greinke, they hoped he would want to stick around. That doesn't look like it's working out, and the Angels' rotation won't be as strong with Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton replacing Greinke, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.

There's a lot of heat on GM Jerry Dipoto to land Anibal Sanchez now because C.J. Wilson has shown he's more comfortable in a wingman's role than as an ace or even No. 2 starter. The team that was the talk of baseball last winter won't finish last in the AL West next year, but that's only because the Astros are moving into the division.

Napoli, Victorino winners: Trying to contend a year after a 93-loss season, and with enormous payroll flexibility after sending Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers, the Red Sox signed Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino to matching three-year, $39 million contracts even though their production dipped in 2012.

progers@tribune.com

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