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Inbox: Starting rotation at top of club's priorities

Beat reporter Rhett Bollinger answers Twins fans' questions

Baseball's Winter Meetings are just a few weeks away, and the Twins have yet to make a splash this offseason.

They made their first trade of the offseason this week, acquiring left-hander Kris Johnson from the Pirates for right-handed reliever Duke Welker. It was a minor trade, but it does give the Twins some organizational depth in their rotation, as the 29-year-old posted a 2.39 ERA in 135 2/3 innings at Triple-A Indianapolis last season.

The trade was just the first attempt by the Twins to improve their starting pitching depth next season, as they're targeting several free-agent starting pitchers. The rotation remains the club's biggest question mark, and led to several questions in this week's Twins Inbox.

What do you project the Twins rotation to be by Spring Training in 2014?
-- Noah M., Northfield, Minn.

It's still too early to predict how the rotation will shake out, as the Twins would ideally like to add two quality starters this offseason via free agency or trade.

Twins general manager Terry Ryan confirmed this week that he's reached out to every free-agent starting pitcher they're interested in, and there have been reports linking them to veteran starters such as Ricky Nolasco and Bronson Arroyo.

The Twins could target one durable veteran starter to anchor the staff, while also acquiring a starting pitcher with a little more risk on a shorter contract such as Scott Kazmir, Phil Hughes or Johan Santana.

As far as in-house options, Kevin Correia and Samuel Deduno are likely locks to make the rotation, while they have other options in prospect Kyle Gibson, who struggled as a rookie, as well as Scott Diamond and Vance Worley.

Would Bronson Arroyo be a good fit for the Twins? He's a veteran with a lot of experience and could help stabilize the rotation.
-- Michael B., Eden Prairie, Minn.

Arroyo is a classic innings eater, as he's thrown at least 200 innings in eight of the last nine seasons, having missed that mark by just one inning in 2011. He also posted a 3.74 ERA in 202 innings in '12, and a 3.79 ERA in 202 innings in '13 despite pitching half his games at Great American Ball Park, which rates as a hitters' park.

His durability certainly makes him appealing to the Twins, and he confirmed in a radio interview with MLB Network Radio on Monday that the Twins have reached out to him.

So there's interest on Minnesota's end, but Arroyo, who turns 37 in February, said in the radio interview his top priority is playing for a contender. And given that the Twins lost 96 games last year, it would be hard to see Arroyo wanting to sign with Minnesota. I wouldn't rule it out, but it just doesn't seem likely given Arroyo's priorities, and it's a problem the Twins could run into a few more times this offseason.

What's the latest on prospect Eddie Rosario? I saw an article that said he might be suspended for 50 games.
-- Tom S., St. Louis Park, Minn.

There are indeed reports out of Puerto Rico that Rosario will be suspended for 50 games for testing positive for a banned substance.

Rosario, ranked as the club's No. 5 prospect and as Major League Baseball's No. 62 overall prospect by, said he took pills to help his injured arm and it triggered the positive result, according to The second baseman also told El Nuevo Dia that he's trying to appeal the suspension, but it's not likely to be overturned.

The Twins have declined to comment on the situation because it's yet to be officially announced by Major League Baseball as a result of the appeal. But if it's upheld, it's sure to be a big blow to the organization and Rosario, as he was on the fast track to the big leagues and was expected to open the year at Double-A New Britain.

With Joe Mauer moving to first base, does it spell the end of Justin Morneau's career with the Twins? Would the Twins consider playing Mauer at third if Morneau was interested in returning?
-- Jon P., Bloomington, Minn.

Ryan all but confirmed that Morneau will not be returning to the Twins, saying the door isn't closed on a reunion, but it's improbable.

While Mauer likely could handle third base given his athleticism and arm strength, the Twins are content keeping him at first base moving forward, which means there would be no room on the roster for Morneau unless he was used as a full-time designated hitter. But that's not going to happen, as Morneau wants to remain at first base and is likely to find another suitor this offseason.

The Rockies could be a good match for Morneau. He could be reunited with former Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer and would replace Todd Helton at first base. But that's just speculation at this point.

If Aaron Hicks has a nice bounceback year like Brian Dozier did last year, what are the odds he slows Byron Buxton from being promoted to the MLB club?
-- Casey O., Minot, N.D.

Hicks and Dozier had similar rookie seasons a year apart -- they were both optioned to Triple-A Rochester in August and didn't return as September callups because of their season-long struggles.

But Dozier bounced back from his forgettable rookie season with a strong sophomore campaign last year, and Hicks could follow his footsteps next season and do the same. Hicks is still just 24 and has the tools to be a solid big leaguer moving forward. But he's likely to start the year at Triple-A to get more seasoning, allowing Alex Presley to hold the fort in center field to open the season.

But truthfully, the only player who can slow down Buxton, is Buxton, as he's the game's No. 1 overall prospect and his ceiling looks almost limitless. Once he's ready to play in the Majors, which likely won't happen until 2015, he'll take over in his natural center field. It's much more likely that Hicks will have to move to a corner outfield spot once Buxton is ready.

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger.
Read More: Minnesota Twins, Kevin Correia, Joe Mauer, Byron Buxton, Alex Presley, Vance Worley, Eddie Rosario, Brian Dozier, Aaron Hicks, Kris Johnson, Samuel Deduno, Kyle Gibson, Scott Diamond