The Twins began their Winter Caravan with inquisitive fans wanting information that the manager simply didn't have.
Updated: January 14, 2013 - 11:35 PM
OWATONNA, MINN. - One fan asked about the Twins' situation in center field. Another wanted to know about the shape of the rotation.
Fan after fan posed questions Monday to manager Ron Gardenhire that touched on potential 2013 trouble spots at a packed Owatonna restaurant during the first day of the team's annual Winter Caravan.
The trouble was, Gardenhire had a tough time coming up with definitive answers for all those questions.
"I know that's going to happen," Gardenhire said. "I know questions are going to be about center field, about the pitching and all those things."
He paused before adding: "The crazy thing about it right now is there's not a lot of answers. We have some people who are qualified to get us there. We have to wait to spring training to see what they can do."
Gardenhire -- with new bench coach Terry Steinbach, infielder Brian Dozier, television announcer Dick Bremer and mascot TC Bear -- began the day at K-TWIN (96.3-FM) studios in Minneapolis and Northfield Middle School before hitting up the lunchtime crowd at Plaza Morena Campestre Grill in Owatonna. From there, the group finished the day at the Kato Ballroom in Mankato.
The caravan is supposed to fuel Twins fever before the team takes off to Florida for spring training next month. The fan base, however, might be looking for chicken soup for their baseball souls after enduring 195 losses during the two previous seasons, and an offseason without a high-impact free-agent signing or blockbuster trade to provide immediate help.
The Twins did trade outfielders Denard Span and Ben Revere for three pitchers, two of whom are expected to begin this season in the minors. Gardenhire told the audience it didn't feel good to see Span and Revere leave, but the Twins had to do something to get pitching for the future.
He then said Aaron Hicks, Darin Mastroianni and Joe Benson are in the mix to start in center field.
Gardenhire said he has received assurances from General Manager Terry Ryan that he can bring Hicks, the 2008 first-round draft pick who hasn't played above Class AA, north with the club if he earns the job this spring.
The Twins spent the offseason collecting pitchers. But none of the club-record 34 pitchers coming to camp are considered to be a frontline starter. And Gardenhire revealed that Nick Blackburn is injured and out of the derby for a rotation spot. The righthander will have surgery Wednesday on his right wrist and will spend around six weeks in a cast.
There still are free-agent pitchers available, but the Twins have not been linked to them.
"I don't believe [we'll add someone else] but that is not to say [Ryan] won't if some people we can sign fall into our laps," Gardenhire said. "I wouldn't doubt that we would take a run at them if that happened."
Dozier -- who wasn't called up in September despite playing 84 games for the 2012 Twins before getting sent back to the minors Aug. 15 -- talked about spending a month in Venezuela, playing both shortstop and second base.
That's another issue, by the way. The Twins don't know who will man the key middle infield spots.
"I now feel comfortable at either position," Dozier said.
Steinbach's children are in college, so he is fleeing his empty nest to be Gardenhire's bench coach. He also will help catchers with calling games.
Steinbach told a story about how, after a good night at the plate with Oakland his rookie year, he was berated by Athletics manager Tony La Russa for calling a poor game.
"It was a good training situation," Steinbach said. "There is more to catching than swinging the bat."
Gardenhire erupted when he heard that.
"I can't wait for you to call Joe [Mauer] in my office and rip him!" Gardenhire said. "Joe is 5-for-5 and you call him in and say, 'You stunk tonight.' I've got something to look forward to!"
There was plenty of humor on the first day of caravan, but Gardenhire, in the final year of his contract, also talked about pitchers throwing deeper into games, fewer mistakes in the field and more wins.
Some of the offseason moves were clearly made with the future in mind. Nevertheless, Gardenhire will travel the region during the caravan trying to convince fans that the team will be better this season.
"I do have to assure them that we will put forth a good effort to get back to our winning ways," Gardenhire said, "and I want them to understand that Terry has made a lot of moves this winter and is pushing hard for us to not wait until 2014. It's now.
"People expect it now. We're in a new ballpark, and they want to win now. That is my job, to get them back there in the hunt."
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