Twinkie Town Q&A with Twins Assistant GM Rob Antony, 2011

As always, a huge thanks to Rob for taking time out of his day to chat. I always seem to run over my half hour by about ten minutes, and he's always been really good about it. Our chat this spring covers a lot of ground for Tsuyoshi Nishioka, but we also talk about the Francisco Liriano trade rumors, Justin Morneau's health, who the Twins will look to for depth in the minors, and there's some insight as to how the Twins approached their off-season including the J.J. Hardy trade. Enjoy!

Jesse: One of the Twins' more high-profile moves this winter was bringing in Nishioka. At what point did he pop up on your radar?

Rob Antony: We knew about him from our international scouts and I was talking with his agent, I don't even remember the exact timeframe, but he was asking what we were looking to do in the off-season. I told him we were trying to get a little more athletic and maybe add a little speed to the lineup, and I told him I really wasn't sure where we were going to be able to do that apart from maybe the middle infield, because Orlando Hudson was going to be a free agent and I wasn't sure what we were going to do with J.J. Hardy. We may bring him back, we may not, we may deal him, I wasn't sure what we were going to do at that point.

So we kicked around a lot of ideas and he [Nishioka's agent] said "Gee, I never thought of you guys, but I represent a guy who I believe is going to become available as a free agent from Japan." We started talking about it and we followed up with more information, more research, talking to people and whatnot, our scouts had conviction that he'd be a good middle infielder for us and fill the need we had for some speed and athletecism up the middle.

J: Are there any expectations at this point for how you look for him to progress?

RA: He's still a younger player and we believe there's still more upside and that he has more ceiling, that he can get better than he is even now. I don't think we have...we would love to see him and Alexi Casilla win the middle infield spots, whether one's at short and one's at second. It doesn't matter to us to be honest with you.

But if he doesn't, and he starts off in more of a utility role or platoon situation or something--I think you always understand that it's going to take some time for the transition and for somebody to get acclimated to not only Major League Baseball but to the United States. When he's never been over here, there's a lot of things for him to go through, cultural changes and differences and that type of thing.

So we have beliefs and expectations that he can be a good player. I don't think we went into this thing saying "This is a high-profile guy where if he doesn't hit .300 and hit ten home runs and steal 50 bases then we didn't get what we thought we were getting." We don't look at it that way. We think he has a chance to be a solid, everyday player, and if he does it from Day 1 that's great; if it takes a little time, that would not be a shock.

J: You talked about cultural differences. Do you think that the language barrier will play into his relationship with Casilla or whoever else he'll be playing with in the middle infield?

RA: You try and minimize that--we have an interpreter for him. There's always some things that are going to take a little time and some things that will get lost in translation, but you hope to minimize them.

But first and foremost, on the baseball field he's a baseball player. There are a lot of things that are somewhat universal. There are other times and other things where the translator comes into play and can explain what we're looking for or what he needs to do. But he and Casilla are about the same age, so there's going to be some similarities as well as the differences. I think they'll be able to work well together.

J: With all the media that's been committed to him, I think I read he has something like five reporters committed to covering him playing in Major League Baseball, is that going to have any kind of an effect on the balance in the Twins' clubhouse?

RA: I don't think so, I think all of the players understand that it's a little bit of a unique situation. There are players who have come from other clubs where there have been Japanese players. They've seen how it works with the interpreters and with the media and all that other stuff, so I think it'll be a learning experience for some of our guys and our staff, but I think everyone's pretty open-minded and understands that this requires some unique things, and they're ready to deal with it.

J: At what point were you confident that you were going to win the bid for Nishioka? Did you know you were going to be in play for it, or were you not really sure?

RA: That's a really tough situation when you do a blind bid. The only thing you can do is say what you're willing to do. If you try to out-smart yourself or think about what other bids are going to be, or determine everyone else's interest in the player, you're going to get cute and you're going to miss out on the player by bidding too low or you'll out-smart yourself and bid way more than you needed to in order to get the rights to the player. So we just determined what we thought he was worth, and if we win this bid here's what we're willing to pay him.

We won the bid, and the contract that we gave him is exactly what we pretty much anticipated and were willing to give. $15 million, or $14-something, is what the end result was, and that's over the course of three years and there's an option for a fourth year. That's kind what what we believed we were willing to do. That's the way it played out.

J: With Orlando Hudson becoming a free agent you just kind of assume there wasn't a whole lot of interest in bringing him back, and looking at the middle infield free agent market was going after Nishioka kind of a reflection on maybe the organization's disatisfaction with what was available on the market at those positions?

RA: I think a little bit. Orlando did a great job for us, but like I said, TK...

...TK? (Laughs.)

...Gardy, when we sat down at talked with him, had a lot of interest in trying to add some speed and athletecism to the lineup. Orlando can run, but he's not what you'd consider a huge base stealer. He plays great defense, he's won Gold Gloves for a reason, but with Casilla and getting Nishioka we looked at that as an opportunity to get [faster and more athletic].

When we looked at the free agent market I don't think anybody jumped out at us that wouldn't have cost more money, or not exactly filled what we were looking to do. J.J. Hardy did a good job for us, he had a few injuries last year but when healthy he did a nice job for us. But like I say, there weren't many other areas in our lineup where we could add speed to it, other than in the middle of the infield because everybody else was kind of locked in at the other positions.

J: I think this is my last question on Nishioka--if Nishioka starts out in that utility or platoon role as you mentioned, or if something happens where Casilla doesn't really take hold of a position like you're hoping he will, who's your backup plan?

RA: The guys that are battling for those spots are Luke Hughes, and Trevour Plouffe--are probably the two main guys. Matt Tolbert, we like him a lot as a utility guy who we can move around to give different guys a break. But Hughes and Plouffe are the two primary guys who could try to pry a starting position away from Casilla or Nishioka.

J: You've already brought up J.J. Hardy. At our website at least, it was one of the more controversial moves of the off-season. What was the impetus behind moving him?

RA: It goes back to the speed portion of the thing, as well as the fact that he was going to make somewhere between $5.5 and $6 million dollars. We just decided that we wanted to put that money into other areas. We had to make a lot of tough decisions.

We had a tremendous bullpen last year. And we knew we couldn't bring all those guys back. We had Pavano out as a free agent, we had Thome as a free agent, and we had to start prioritizing. And basically we just decided that trying to fit all those guys into a budget was going to be impossible. Some of those guys, the Crain's and Guerrier's, were looking at three and four-year deals and we just didn't think we could do that. We couldn't do the dollars, and we could't do the length that they were looking for. We made the decision that we would try to bring in some other people to pitch in the middle of the bullpen. We were going to keep Matt Capps and Joe Nathan at the back end of that thing, we still had Jose Mijares and some other guys who had pitched out of the 'pen for us in the past, but we'll need some guys to step up.

But in the J.J. Hardy situation we just looked at it and said "We may need to take that $6 million and go another route."

The Nishioka thing, that's $3 million dollars a year, those are the dollars that are committed to it as far as the budget goes.

J: I think that'll clear something up. I think I know the answer to this, but the winning bid--the $5 million and change you put forward for Nishioka--that does not count towards the payroll. Correct?

RA: That's correct. And actually I believe it was $4.7 or something...

J: Was it?

RA: Yes, it was less than $5 million.

J: Okay. We know that other teams, like the Padres and Giants, were looking for shortstops as well around the time you dealt to Baltimore. Were there other conversations involving Hardy with other teams?

RA: We had other conversations, but this was by far our best opportunity to make a deal. There were teams who had interest, but know what they would have to pay...we did have conversations, but there were never any real bonafide offers.

J: What role did Brendan Harris play in the deal to the Orioles?

RA: They were looking for a utility guy as well as a starting shortstop, and it became apparent that Harris wasn't going to be a fit here. And he was guaranteed $1.75 [million]. So in that deal not only did we trade Hardy, who was going to make between $5.5 and $6 million, but we also moved Harris who was guaranteed $1.75 million. It cleared some payroll for us to do some other things, and it gave Brendan another opportunity and a fresh start with another club.

J: How do guys like Jim Hoey and, well, Hoey more than Brett Jacobson, how do they fit into your plans?

RA: Hoey is a candidate to be one of our bullpen guys. We don't have many guys...we don't have any guys in camp who are throwing 97 like he does. For him it's just a matter of throwing strikes and being able to command his secondary stuff. He has a legitimate chance to be one of our bullpen guys.

And Jacobson, we really like his future. He's another mid-90s [fastball] guy. So we were able to acquire velocity out of the bullpen, which was something that was a goal for us.

The fit was right with them. They had interest, they looked at it and said "This is the starting shortstop we want", we looked at it and said "You have the pieces that we would have interest in", in a non-roster guy who throws hard in Jacobson and another guy who has a chance to pitch out of our bullpen in Hoey.

J: With Hardy, was any part of his deal, did any of it have anything to do with the effort he exerted on the field?

RA: No. No. J.J., he's a little bit of a low-key guy, very similar to Joe Mauer, but there was never a lack of effort or a lack of work ethic or anything else. He's a great guy. He worked hard. He had a couple of freak injuries. But I think he's going to have a good year and I wouldn't be surprised if he came out and played 140 games this year for Baltimore. I think he'll be healthy and I think he'll be productive.

It was a good deal for them, and I think it was a good deal for us for all of the reasons I've cited as well.

J: He was one of my biggest sources of frustration last year. I really liked him as a player, and personally I had hoped he was going to come back because I do think he's poised for a bit of a bounce back season.

But looking at Hoey, is Rick Anderson confident that he can help all those big numbers Hoey's had in the minors translate to the Majors?

RA: I don't think Rick Anderson, until this week, he hasn't spent much time with him. He basically just said "Man, that guy can throw it through a wall." But we know that, we know he throws hard, he just needs to throw strikes and be able to use his secondary stuff.

Our scouting reports say that this guy should fit for us in that sixth or seventh inning, as the guy who comes in for an inning, throws hard, and can get people out. So if he throws strikes, he has an opportunity to make the club and be one of those three guys or something that we're looking for.

We have openings in the bullpen. It's going to be a chance for guys to jump up and sieze the opportunity.

J: That was actually going to be my next question. You've got Capps at the back end and Mijares. You hope that Nathan, who at 80% is still better than most pitchers in the league, you hope that he's ready to go. Who are the guys who are in the running for those last three or four bullpen spots?

RA: We've got a whole host of them. That's the thing, we've got numbers, but some guys are ahead of other guys.

Alex Burnett, who pitched some out of the 'pen for us last year, has a chance to make this club. Scott Diamond, who we took as a Rule V guy, was a starter at triple-A for the Braves and we like him in long relief. He's left handed and he throws strikes--he's got three pitches he can throw for strikes. Phil Dumatrait, who was a high-draft pick for Boston and has some Major League experience from the left side, throws average, he's a guy.

There's a couple other guys that we really like who may not quite be ready. Carlos Gutierrez, Eric Hacker.

But we picked up Dusty Hughes off waivers from Kansas City, we like him. We like Hoey. Chuck James had a very good bounce back year after some injuries, he's going to be in the mix as a non-roster guy. Jeff Manship was up and down with us [last year], Pat Neshek's trying to come back after his surgery--his second year back he looks a lot stronger. If he's back throwing an average fastball, and he's got that slider, I don't see why he wouldn't have a very good chance of making this club. Glen Perkins threw the ball well in relief last September. The ball was jumping out of his hand much better than it had for a couple years. Anthony Slama's put up great numbers in the minor leagues. Now's the time to find out if he's ready to make that jump. He had a very brief opportunity with us last year but now he's got a legitimate chance of earning one of those spots, he's very tough on right handers. And Kyle Waldrop, he had a very good year but I think he tired, and he didn't have a very good Arizona Fall League, but I think a lot of it was because he was tired.

Those are a lot of names, but we legitimately give these guys a chance. Some of these guys are probably a bit more of a reach or aren't quite ready, but they could go down and then help us at some point this year if the guys that do go north with us this year don't get it done.

J: I want to go back to Dusty Hughes for a second, but I want to ask a quick question about Waldrop. He wasn't protected during the Rule V. Were you confident that he just wasn't going to get taken, or was that just a decision that needed to be made?

RA: It was a tough call, but it was a decision that needed to be made. We considered him.

He could have become a six-year free agent but he signed back with us on a minor league deal. We left him out there, but part of it was calculated because he didn't pitch very well in the Arizona Fall League, which is heavily scouted. We took a shot that he would not get selected, and we were pleased that he didn't.

J: And with Dusty Hughes, obviously you had to DFA Rob Delaney who went to Tampa Bay. What did you see in Hughes that made you jump on him?

RA: We saw him about ten times last year with the Royals. What they'd do is they'd bring him in every time, about the sixth or seventh inning when we had a bunch of lefties coming up, and all he did was get Mauer, Morneau, Kubel and Thome out with regularity. And those guys do a pretty good job against left-handers.

He was tough on us. He had a .260 batting average against lefties, which isn't dominant, but this guy knows how to pitch. He can get lefties and righties out. We just think he's a good fit for a left-handed guy who might be able to pitch for an inning or two if you need him to.

J: With all those bullpen guys who left--Crain and Rauch and Guerrier and Fuentes, the list seems to go on and on--were you ever close with any of them as far as maybe getting them to come back?

RA: We basically told them where we were at and that we'd like to have them back, but that if they were getting three and four-year offers for $3 or $4 million a year, we couldn't compete with that. In essence we appreciate everything they did for us, they were a big part of--for Crain and Guerrier for multiple seasons, we drafted Crain, he came through our system and was with us for six years, and Guerrier we claimed off waivers from Pittsburgh--that's kind of the way we look at it, as Matt Guerrier wasn't one of the top relief pitchers in the game when we claimed him off waivers from Pittsburgh way back when, but he got an opportunity. And Jesse Crain got an opportunity.

Now it's time for somebody else to get those opportunities. Because these guys have gone on to get themselves bigger contracts and set themselves up. For both those guys it was their first crack at it, and we understand, that's the way it goes, it's the business of the game. We're happy for them that they were able to land those deals.

J: Sure. Justin Morneau had a really good workout this morning it sounds like. Have you had a chance to talk to him and how does he look to you?

RA: He looked great. He had a big smile on his face yesterday. Last year, even at the end of the season, he looked like was in a little bit of a fog. He looked like he was really struggling with everything.

Now he looks like he's ready for a fresh start. The biggest thing for him will be to do all those things he's thought about wanting to do again, and all the things he used to do. He just needs to get out there and do them to put his mind at ease, so that he knows this thing is behind him, and that's what we want to do is make sure it's behind him. If there are any recurrences we'll have to deal with it, but what we want to do and what we told him, repeatedly, is that we only want him to go through this once. We don't want any relapses or any of that stuff again, so if we need to address those issues or if we need to cut back, but his doctors seem pretty confident that he's ready to move forward, and so now it's time for him to get out on the field and see how it goes.

J: Assuming everything is alright, is his ETA April 1st?

RA: Yeah. I don't think we're too worried about spring training, but obviously he's going to want to get into games, get his timing back, get at-bats and do all the things that need to be done. If he's ready to go, that's tremendous. If he's not ready until April 15th or May 1st we'll deal with that, but the main thing is to eliminate all doubt and that this thing is in the rear view mirror once and for all.

J: Bringing back Jim Thome was another one of your big moves this off-season. He had the big home run off the White Sox last year, and one off the flag pole in right field, but it didn't really seem like him coming back was the foregone conclusion that I thought it would be. How did negotiations go with him this year?

RA: He had a better offer from another club, but I think what it boiled down to is, for Jim Thome, he's made a lot of money in this game, and he's such a good guy and such a family man that I think he looked at it and talked with his family, and decided that Minnesota is where he wanted to be.

We made what we believe was a fair offer. We believed he wanted to come back, he said as much when all was said and done. But when you go out and you hit 25 home runs and you do some of the things he did for us last year, everybody wants to be compensated.

We explained to him that, bringing him back this year, we want him to do the things we brought him in to do last year.

He exceeded our expectations.

J: I think it's fair to say he exceeded everyone's expectations.

RA: Yeah. I mean last year, we brought him in to be a pinch hitter and an occasional left-handed DH, he'd get some at-bats and stuff but here's the deal--we've got Young, Span, Cuddyer in the outfield, Kubel's our DH, Morneau's at first, this-and-that, we're going to get you at-bats but it's not going to be like being a regular like you've been your entire career.

This year I hope we're able to do that, because that way he'll be healthy and be able to stay healthy throughout the course of the year, and hopefully into the playoffs. I'm not sure that was the case last year. He had his battles with his back and getting stiff, and he was not 100% at the end of the season.

J: How careful does Gardy need to be with that kind of thing? Is that a situation where he needs to talk to Thome on a daily basis to see how he's feeling?

RA: Yeah, and they do. Jim's great about saying "You know what I think I need a couple days" or whatnot, and we want to be in a position where that doesn't alter our lineup at all. When he needs a few days off, okay that's fine, no problem. We'll maybe keep him in the lineup a few games a week, we'll keep him fresh and productive, and hopefully keep him healthy.

J: The free agent market for starting pitchers shook out a bit differently than some people expected as well. I think a lot of people had Pavano pegged as the second-best starting pitcher on the market. Was bringing him back a realistic scenario in your off-season blueprint?

RA: Not at the beginning, I didn't think there was any way. I thought he'd get two, maybe three years at about $10 or $11 million. I didn't think it was unrealistic for him to ask for that. In light of the Ted Lilly deal and some other deals that were made, it's obviously a difficult situation and you can't read what other teams are thinking or whatnot, but with him being a Type-A free agent and the team having to give up a first-round pick, that may have played a role in it.

I know Milwaukee had interest but they were able to acquire Zack Grienke. There's a lot of different scenarios and things that can happen. There were other teams that were interested in him, but his agent basically told us--he wants to come back. If all things are equal, and you guys match his best offer, all things being equal he's coming back to Minnesota. He loves it there. He loves playing for Gardy, he loves Rick Anderson, all those things.

So I think Carl Pavano was a big part of everything we did last year, and even the year before when we acquired him. He's another guy who's made some honey in this game, and I think being on a team that he's comfortable with and comfort with teammates, it all starts to add up to him not being a guy who's chasing the last dollar. He wants to be where he wants to be, where he has a chance to win, and he said as much.

We think we've got a chance to win, and he wanted to be a part of it.

J: Keeping in the rotation, a couple weeks ago it came out that the Twins were fielding offers for Francisco Liriano. How much truth was there in that statement?

RA: (Unsure laughter.) I'm not sure where that came about. The only thing I got out of the whole thing, and I haven't talked to the guy who wrote that, but he was speculating that because we had done a one-year deal that maybe we were looking to trade him. That since we weren't doing a multi-year deal. Well, in this situation we control his contract this year and next year, and y'know, we don't talk about our negotiations or our discussions.

There can be many reasons why you don't consummate a multi-year deal, and sometimes the player doesn't want to, sometimes the club doesn't want to, sometimes you just don't agree on numbers, or whatever. So we're not going to talk about any of our negotiations with that or anything else, but he was a big part of our rotation. He came in in tremendous shape, so...

I know that riled up a lot of people and caused a lot of questions, but we're not talking to anybody right now on Francisco Liriano.

J: Were you ever tempted with any of your arbitration guys to talk about multi-year offers?

RA: You know what, with our payroll where we're at, we're at the far reaches of where we can go and what we can do. I think sometimes you need to take a step back and try and create a little payroll flexibility. There are some guys who are potentially free agents after this year that we may want to try and hang onto, or extend at some point, or bring back or whatever. And what you don't want to do is have decisions taken out of your hands because there's nothing you could do about it, if you just don't have the dollars or whatnot.

So we've tried to maintain some flexibility for 2012 and beyond, and by doing so we didn't do any multi-year contracts this year with the exception of Pavano's two-year deal.

J: Before you did your spending for the off-season and payroll was pushed to its limits, were there other free agents you guys were looking at? Maybe a low-risk, high-reward starting pitcher, or a bat for the bench?

RA: Not too much, to be honest with you. No.

J: (Pause, waiting for Rob to elaborate. He doesn't.) Fair enough. (Laughs.)

RA: (Laughs.)

J: Do you see Delmon Young solidifying a role in the middle of this lineup?

RA: Yeah, we hope that last year was a precursor of things to come for him. It's what we envisioned when we traded for him from Tampa, a guy who could drive in 100 runs. He's always been a good hitter, hitting for a high average. He's never put up a real high on-base percentage numbers because he is a free-swinger and he's not a guy who takes many walks.

But we saw last year that he started to drive the ball more, with the career-high 21 home runs. We think he can build on that, and we're hoping to get another year similar to last year from him.

J: Do you think any of his success last year had to do with him coming into camp 30 pounds lighter?

RA: I don't think it's a huge factor to be honest with you, because he gained some of that weight back during the course of the year. I think it has more to do with--he came into camp in great shape, but he also came in ready to play. He's always gotten off to slow starts, and last year he started to kick it in, maybe in mid-April...

J: I think that's probably where the idea came from. Obviously he was lighter and he had a quick start. You look at the evidence and maybe you come to the wrong conclusion, but that could be where the impression came from.

RA: He definitely was more athletic and got around better at a lighter weight. I think he really struggled with that, because I think he was somewhat miserable. He was hungry all the time, I think he was really going to great lengths to play at that light of weight, and I think as the season wore on and he gained some weight back his production didn't necessarily drop off.

In an ideal world he might play at two-and-a-quarter or something, but I also believe that at a higher weight he can still be productive.

J: And probably happier?

RA: Right, and happier. He came in this spring, and we haven't done the weigh-ins on him yet, but he's a big guy. He's strong. You can tell that he's been doing a lot of weight work that he hasn't in the past.

J: But he's one of those big-bodied guys as well.

RA: He is. And when you take a bigger-bodied guy with a frame like that and you try and make him as light as possible, some things are better and other things might not be as good. Delmon always works hard, there's no concern over that. So I think it might be a different body, but hopefully the same results.

J: Thinking about all the nagging injuries--obviously Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn had things cleaned up, Mauer had his knee and Cuddyer's thumb--is there concern that any of these small things will carry over into the season?

RA: We hope not, we don't think so. Obviously we're going to watch Joe [Nathan]. He's in tremendous shape, he threw a bullpen today and looked terrific. So I'm not sure that Nathan is less than any other year coming into spring training. He is actually in better shape than he ever has been, because for months he wasn't able to throw a baseball so he worked on the rest of his body. He's in unbelieveable shape.

Cuddyer, he had an appendectomy and the thumb deal, and I believe a knee cleanup at the end of the season. But he came in in good shape, he's ready to go. Baker and Blackburn are throwing bullpens.

Anytime you have surgery and you come back and get into the full swing of it, you'll have scar tissue that needs to break away and different little things, so you look for red flags but there are sometimes just small indicators that let you know a guy has to back off a little or whatever. Then he moves past that point.

I don't think we have any concerns right now with those guys. They may skip a turn, or the doctor may say "Let's back off for a minute and let him catch his breath a minute--I don't see any long-term issues here, but it's a little irritated so let's rest it for a bit." But no, we don't see any major red flags with those guys right now.

J: You guys signed a lot of minor league free agents for Rochester to flesh out some depth. Can you pick one sleeper out of that group that might be able to crack the Twins roster this year?

RA: Chuck James. I watched him throw a bullpen, and he's in great shape and he's had some success in the past. He's run into some injuries in the past, but I think those are past him. He had a nice year last year, at double-A and triple-A, and I think he'll give himself a chance to win a spot out of the bullpen. If not, I think he could help us at some point during the year.

J: You've got another wave of minor league starting pitchers that are starting to get closer to the surface again. Alex Wimmers is one of those, and obviously Kyle Gibson. Do you see Gibson getting a chance this year, or would you prefer to see him work out some bugs in triple-A and take a closer look at him in 2012?

RA: We hope that we don't need him in the rotation to start the year, that would mean a few other guys are hurt. So, hopefully he goes down to the minors, gets in a full season, but I also believe that he is very close to being Major League-ready, and if we do need him I think he could help us this year.

Wimmers is obviously a year behind him, hopefully he can take the same path as Gibson and move as quickly. Liam Hendriks is another guy we like a lot, who isn't more than a year or two away from being able to pitch in the big leagues. So those three guys in particular are the guys we hope are moving in that next wave of starters who could help us in the next few years.

J: Moving to position players in the minors, do you think there's anyone who's ready to make an impact on this year's roster?

RA: I think Ben Revere, if we needed an outfielder, could come up and help us. I think he's very close to being Major League-ready. I think Joe Benson probably needs another year. Those are the two guys in the outfield, as well as Rene Tosoni, who just needs to stay healthy for a full year. He could be a corner guy for us in the very near future. Those guys along with, like I talked about, Plouffe and Hughes, their time is probably getting pretty close.

It's hard to envision, because a year ago I'm not sure I told you if Danny Valencia is called upon he's going to come up and hit .300 and play great defense...

J: I don't think you put it quite that way, no...

RA: (Laughs.) So, some guys, they surprise you. They sieze the opportunities. Jeff Manship might establish himself as a guy like Brian Duensing was for us out of the 'pen last year, before we moved him into the rotation. Or like Matt Guerrier was a couple years ago when he was in the middle. So maybe it's Manship, maybe it's Slama, maybe Perkins rejuvenates himself or Neshek regains his form from a few years ago.

There's a lot of maybe's and a lot of possibilities for a lot of different guys. It's all about who's going to stay healthy and who's going to sieze the opportunities.

J: With those six guys who are vying for the starting pitching job, the one unfortunate one who doesn't get slotted into the rotation, does he automatically go to the bullpen?

RA: We could go a couple of different routes. He could go to the bullpen and be ready if we need him to jump back into the rotation, we could move somebody. If the right deal arrises and we can improve our ballclub, we could look at it from that point of view. There are a few different ways we can go about this thing, but those are six guys that if they're all healthy and pitching like they're capable of, it's a great situation to be in. Then it's just a matter of finding those best 12 pitchers possible and where to pitch them and where to use them.

J: In the scenario where you maybe end up moving one of those guys, do you know what you'd be looking for in return?

RA: That's where spring training and some other things would have to play out. At this point the question marks are in the bullpen, and like I said we have a lot of candidates and a lot of options. I don't think we'd trade away one of our starting pitchers for a middle reliever or something. It would have to be something that would make sense for us. We'll let things unfold and develop.

And a trade isn't even the most likely scenario, it's a possible scenario.

J: Sure.

RA: I'm not sure what route we'd go, but I'd think we'd just want to get talent and something equitable back. Maybe, during the course of the spring, something that happens out on the field dictates what you need. We didn't come into our first spring training game last year thinking we'd be looking for a closer. Unfortunately, those things happen though.

J: Who's your third catcher behind Mauer and Drew Butera?

RA: I'm not sure we will carry three catchers to be honest. Matt Tolbert might be our emergency catcher if we needed one, if he's our utility guy. We've got a couple of veteran guys in, in Rene Rivera and Steve Holm, so if we do decide to go with a third catcher I imagine it would be one of those two guys.

J: Alright, I think that pretty much wraps up my serious questions.

RA: Alright!

J: Onto the stupid ones! What's your bet for Gardy's nickname for Nishioka?

RA: I think it's deadlocked: Nishee.

J: Is that really it?

RA: Yeah!

J: I think a lot of people were hoping for Yoshi...but yeah, I think "Nishee" is probably it. Carl Pavano, with or without the 'stache?

RA: He's gotta go with it, he became a legend with it.

J: (Laughs.) Mauer's Head & Shoulders deal. Do you wish it was you?

RA: (Laugh.) Not with my thinning hair. I'd be out as a candidate, and I've got no sideburns...

J: Danny "Hide Your Daughters" Valencia--true or false?

RA: (Laughs.) He's a good-lookin kid with a big future, I'm sure they'd be throwing themselves at him, but I think he has a nice lady already.

J: Alright, I think that's all I have. Rob, seriously, thank you for your time.

RA: No problem.

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