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Twins bolster pitching staff, still shopping

The SportsXchange

MINNEAPOLIS -- After a third straight 90-plus-loss season, general manager Terry Ryan wasted no time on the offseason makeover of the Minnesota Twins.

Holes in the everyday lineup remain, but Ryan went full bore to address his biggest concern, the starting rotation.

The Twins signed Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million contract and added another right-hander, former Yankees' starter Phil Hughes, to a three-year, $24 million deal. The two pitchers move right to the top of the Twins rotation, already considered an improvement over last season.

Nolasco's four-year deal (which has a fifth-year vesting provision) is a long deal when it comes to Twins signings. Nolasco became the most expensive free agent in team history. But both parties are looking forward to the 30-year old pitcher fulfilling the contract. The Twins needed to improve the staff, and Nolasco is a strikeout pitcher with a long record of durability.

"He has a lot of ability," Ryan said. "He can strike people out. He doesn't walk people. He competes. He's very dependable. He pounds out innings. And also his character and the way he is as a teammate all add up to what we were looking for."

The Hughes deal was formally announced two days after Nolasco's signing and demonstrated Ryan's rotation-improvement focus.

The 27-year-old Hughes brings experience, having pitched in the pressure cooker of Yankee stadium, but perhaps more potential for improvement.

"I don't think I am a finished product," Hughes said. "I think I can still get better, and I am not going to come here and hope the ballpark creates better numbers for me. I know I have to do things better on my end and I'm excited for the opportunity to do that here."

Ryan recalled that Hughes was particularly effective against the Twins, but that is not what attracted him to the former New Yorker.

"He throws hard; he can really spin a ball," Ryan said. "He's got a good feel for his slider. He throws it over. He's got a pretty good pace about his approach. All we've got to do is make sure that he's healthy. Now, he's had some back issues but he checked out medically, so we're alright there. He's got stuff, he's young, he's strong, so, let's go."

Where Ryan goes from here isn't set in stone, but he was still kicking the tires on pitching at the Winter Meetings this week.

The Twins didn't offer a long enough contract to lure former Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The Twins offered a two-year deal and Saltalamacchia signed with the Marlins for three years.

The Twins also missed on A.J. Pierzynski, who signed with Boston to replace Saltalamacchia. The Twins are continuing to look for a seasoned catcher to lead a crew of younger players (Josmil Pinto and Chris Herrmann) who platooned there last season in Mauer's concussion-related absence.

Moving Mauer to first shakes up the Twins lineup. But multiple variables remain.

Ryan contended that he wasn't done overhauling the roster after the Nolasco and Hughes signings.

NOTES: Joe Mauer's days behind the plate are done. After a concussion that ended his season with six weeks remaining, the decision was made to move him to first base. Mauer was declared symptom free in November, and has already begun preparing for the position transition. ... 3B Miguel Sano injured the elbow on his throwing arm playing winter ball and was shut down Oct. 19. He will be reevaluated later this month, according to general manager Terry Ryan. Ryan did not rule out surgery for Sano. ... 3B Trevor Plouffe's salary is set to quadruple to near $2 million for the 2014 season and that figure, plus his less-than-stellar 2013 season defense, put him in the hot seat with Sano rising in the ranks. But the uncertainty of Sano's injured elbow may work in Plouffe's favor. ... RHP Sam Deduno, who was one of the few positives on the Twins pitching staff in 2013, is in Fort Myers playing catch following offseason shoulder surgery. His rehab from the shoulder procedure is going as scheduled. The Twins expect him to be ready for spring camp.
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