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Twins mull options for infield holes

Club weighs market vs. internal candidates as spring looms

02/01/10 2:42 PM EST

MINNEAPOLIS -- At the start of the offseason, the infield was an area that the Twins felt needed to be upgraded.

The addition of J.J. Hardy filled the club's hole at shortstop as well as provided an offensive threat, but the Twins remain interested in looking for either a second or third baseman. With a little less than three weeks until the start of Spring Training, there have not been any more infield acquisitions. So the question remains: Will there be?

"Our core players are in place," Twins general manager Bill Smith said when asked whether the team is likely to make any more additions before Spring Training. "We'll continue to monitor available players through trade and free agency. And we're looking forward to going to Spring Training when pitchers and catchers report in about three weeks."

The Twins payroll currently projects to be a little over $91 million for 2010 following the recent signing of veteran slugger Jim Thome. The organization won't comment publicly about payroll figures, but indications earlier in the offseason estimated that the payroll for the upcoming season could reach the $90-95 million range. If that's the case, it doesn't leave much room for the club to add players by Opening Day.

The Twins have shown patience in their recent search for upgrades, much like they did last winter. In 2009, Minnesota waited until Spring Training was already under way to sign a third baseman, inking free agent Joe Crede to a one-year, incentive-laden deal in late February.

Crede remains a third-base option if he re-signs with the club, but would appear to be only a temporary measure until prospect Danny Valencia is ready. But recent indications show that the Twins would prefer to give at-bats to their current options rather than take another risk to see if Crede can stay healthy and on the field.

The need for Crede's bat is not as dire as it was a year ago. Not only have the Twins added power to their infield with the acquisition of Hardy, but the recent addition of Thome as a veteran bat off the bench has added another potent threat to their lineup.

Infield options on the market have been dwindling in recent weeks, particularly when it comes to third base. The Twins had recently expressed interest in Miguel Tejada as a third-base option, but he signed a one-year deal worth a reported $6 million with the Orioles in January.

The Twins also appear to be looking for options at second base as well. One of the hot topics at TwinsFest this past weekend was the possibility that Minnesota might be able to add Orlando Hudson. The club is waiting to see whether or not prices will drop for remaining free agents like Hudson, who is reportedly seeking $9 million.

The Twins have internal options at second and third base and are comfortable going in that direction if nothing fits on the open market. Nick Punto, Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert, and Alexi Casilla are all expected to be in the mix at Spring Training as well as prospects like Valencia and Luke Hughes. Harris recently signed a two-year, $3.2 million deal to avoid arbitration and is a leading internal candidate to fill the hole at third base.

"I think we feel pretty comfortable with what we've got," Smith said. "You are always looking to improve your club in all areas, but we've got some depth among the six players that we have that can play second and third. We are going to give them every opportunity to win those jobs and be ready for the start of the season."

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

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