Twins explore international market for pitching help

Posted on December 19th, 2008 – 9:02 AM
By Joe Christensen

Three Twins topics from Thursday, and I wrestled with how to organize the news in today’s notebook, not wanting to over-hype the fact they’d expressed interest in Japanese pitchers Kenshin Kawakami and Koji Uehara.

So I gave top billing to Randy Ruiz signing a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays, followed by news of four minor-league signings by the Twins (Luis Matos, Sean Henn, Bob Keppel and Joe Gaetti).

If we had heard the Twins were deep into negotiations with one of the Japanese righthanders, that would have been the lead, but it only takes one phone call or one meeting with an agent to express interest.

To my knowledge, the Twins never have signed a Japanese player to a major league contract, though I know they had serious interest in Akinori Iwamura before he landed with Tampa Bay.

Kawakami, 33, probably will get a two-year, $10 million contract or 3/15 to be a starting pitcher somewhere. Right now, the Twins don’t need a starter, but that could change if they make a trade.

Uehara, 33, could wind up with a three-year, $9 million deal to be a reliever. So far, the Orioles are the only known team offering a starting job. He was the closer for Japan in the 2007 Asian Championships and also spent one year closing for the Yomiuri Giants.

I’ve been told he has a great split-fingered fastball and good command, but his velocity is down. The Orioles, Rangers and Cardinals are among the teams interested.

Bonus Note: Also heard Thursday that the Twins have expressed interest in Brett Tomko, who got released by the Royals and Padres last season. Tomko, 35, has been used as a starter and a reliever in recent years. He is 95-99 with a 4.68 ERA in his major league career.

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