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11/19/09 12:00 AM EST

Twins eye pitching, infielders in market

Club could be active heading into first year at Target Field

MINNEAPOLIS -- The free-agent market will officially be open for business at 11 p.m. CT Thursday and with it comes the opportunity for the Twins to begin exploring the market for ways to improve their club for another run at the postseason.

Free agents then will be eligible to start signing with any of the 30 Major League clubs. But while the Twins are not expected to secure deals with any of their own five free agents before the exclusive 15-day negotiating window expires, there is still the possibility that at least one of those players could return to the club.

The Twins have publicly expressed their interest in re-signing starting pitcher Carl Pavano. The club spoke with his agent, Tom O'Connell, at the General Managers' Meetings in Chicago last week.

"We expressed our interest and he has interest," Twins general manager Bill Smith said. "He wants to go through the [free agent] process. As a veteran guy, he should do that. But he does have interest in coming back."

Pavano, who is a Type B free agent, likely won't be the only starter that the Twins target this winter. The Twins' starting pitching staff posted a 4.84 ERA in 2009, ranking 26th in the Major Leagues. It was the worst ERA by a Minnesota rotation since the 2000 season, when the group finished 29th in the Majors with a 5.58 ERA.

While Minnesota has a core group of starters returning -- Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey -- and some depth in the Minor Leagues, Smith said that the club is interested in possibly adding at least one proven starter to the mix.

"Ideally you'd love to have a veteran starter in there from day one," Smith said. "We also think that the young pitchers that we have are all going to continue to get better as a group. If there is a fit with a veteran starting pitcher, we are very much open to that. Again, we've got depth but we would love to have a veteran guy that could come in and just calm things down once in awhile."

Besides Pavano, another free-agent pitcher that the Twins are expected to target this winter is left-hander Jarrod Washburn. Minnesota has explored trades for Washburn before and now that the southpaw is available on the open market, there appears to be mutual interest between the two sides.

Washburn, who lives in Webster, Wis., which is about two hours northeast of the Twin Cities, wrote to Foxsports.com in an e-mail on Wednesday that the Twins and Brewers are two teams that are on his radar. Washburn cited a desire to play near home and also the fact that he believes both of those clubs would be a good fit for him.

Minnesota could also possibly target Rich Harden. The Twins put in a claim for Harden in August only to have the Cubs pull him back off waivers. The club also hasn't ruled out finding pitching on the trade market either. Smith already completed a deal to address two needs this winter, bringing shortstop J.J. Hardy from Milwaukee in exchange for outfielder Carlos Gomez. Not only did it give the Twins a replacement at shortstop for free agent Orlando Cabrera, but it also alleviated a crowded outfield situation.

In addition to solidifying the rotation, Smith said that the other area the Twins need to address this winter is the infield. While the club acquired Hardy to be its shortstop, it still has holes at second and third base. There are six internal candidates to compete for the two spots, Smith said, but the Twins could explore other options. That includes the possibility of bringing back free agent Joe Crede for third base.

"His agent [Scott Boras] called shortly after the season and expressed [Crede's] interest in playing here," Smith said. "We're going to look at all options including Joe Crede and the young guys that we have. We'll try to make the best decision moving forward."

During a radio interview with KSTP 1500 AM on Wednesday, Smith also indicated that the Twins could be on the lookout for a veteran bat off the bench.

While some teams are trying to shed payroll this winter, the Twins are one of the clubs that is actually expected to see its payroll rise in 2010. It's estimated the Twins could spend upwards of $85 million on payroll during their first season in their new ballpark, Target Field, although much of their increase will come due to pay raises for the club's current core.

Smith won't comment on what the payroll might be for the 2010 season, but he acknowledged that his club is in a "fortunate position."

"Our team has played well and with our move to Target Field, we know we are going to set a record for season-ticket sales," Smith said. "We are going to have strong attendance and we are in a very fortunate position this year. So we are very comfortable that there is enough revenue and enough payroll that we can continue trying to make this team better."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.