Terry Ryan's challenge this winter is simply stated, and it will be difficult to execute.
The Twins general manager needs to build a rotation from scratch. Minnesota used 12 pitchers to start games this season, and only one of them, rookie left-hander Scott Diamond, has earned a job for 2013.
Minnesota's starters were the worst in the AL, 39-75 with a 5.40 ERA, and the second worst in all of baseball. By season's end, not a single member of the projected 2012 roster was even on the 40-man roster, a remarkable feat completed when five-year veteran Nick Blackburn (4-9, 7.39 ERA) was outrighted to Class AAA Rochester.
The question, of course, is how Ryan will manage to find four starters over the next four months. Free agency? Trades? In-house?
"All of the above," Ryan said. "In the situation we're in, we've got plenty of opportunity for someone to come in and make this club, whether it's from within or outside. Whether it's trade, free agent, international, ... six-year (minor league) free agent, Rule 5 -- yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.
"We're in a tough spot. We need pitching, but 29 other teams do as well, and it's going to be a competitive market."
The Twins do have some players that might interest clubs, especially in the outfield, where they are relatively deep. Center fielder Denard Span is considered the best trade chip. He led the team in Wins Above Replacement (4.8), but he could be replaced by Ben Revere, an exciting player who hit .290 and stole 40 bases in his second full season in the majors.
Left fielder Josh Willingham has two years left on a deal paying him $7 million annually, but as he is coming off a career year (35 homers, 110 RBI) at 33, the Twins might be wise to cash in for something they need more.
Willingham and Span are part of what the Twins are calling the core of players around whom the team can build; it also includes players such as catcher Joe Mauer, first baseman Justin Morneau, catcher/outfielder Ryan Doumit, left-handed reliever Glen Perkins and Revere. But if the Twins proved anything this season, it's that a decent lineup without starting pitching is essentially useless.
Minnesota finished with the worst record in the AL for the second consecutive year.
"We've got to find pitching, however we go about it," Ryan said. "I've said this three times, and I said it on the (radio) the other night a couple times, when you lose 90-plus games two years in a row, there shouldn't be too many untouchables on the club. You've got to find a way to get better."