The Minnesota Twins have filled another hole in a staff that was full of them last season, when their starters posted the second-worst ERA in the majors and 12 pitchers took at least five turns in the rotation.
After finalizing a two-year, $10 million contract with Kevin Correia on Thursday, general manager Terry Ryan acknowledged there's no guarantee the right-hander will strengthen the group. Ryan said he's still looking for candidates after casting a wide net at last week's winter meetings.
"Anybody who represented a starting pitcher, I think we talked to that agent, and that was quite a few," Ryan said. "They were coming out of our suite in a rapid-fire fashion."
The 32-year-old Correia was an All-Star in 2011 with Pittsburgh. He went 12-11 with a 4.21 ERA, 46 walks and only 89 strikeouts in 171 innings this year, losing his spot in the rotation when the Pirates traded for Wandy Rodriguez.
Correia's best season came in 2009, his first of two with San Diego, when he went 12-11 with a 3.91 ERA and 142 strikeouts in 198 innings and 33 starts.
"He knows what he's doing on the mound. He's a guy we've seen quite a bit," Ryan said. "When you start cracking his numbers, they're very respectable."
Correia, primarily a reliever with San Francisco at the beginning of his career, has pitched in parts of 10 major league seasons. He will make $4.5 million next year and $5.5 million in 2014, his first time in the American League. Correia said he's enjoyed pitching on young staffs with the Padres and Pirates, part of the reason he was attracted to the Twins.
Minneapolis was the only major league city he hadn't been to, until now.
"That's fun for me to see, seeing guys progress and get better. I think with the guys we have we can surprise some people. I like that kind of team," Correia said.
Ryan raised the concern of Correia's adjustment to hitters he hasn't faced much, or at all, plus the addition of the designated hitter to opponent lineups in his transition between leagues.
"But this guy's been around long enough, where I don't think that's going to affect him," Ryan said.
Ryan also noted Correia's low strikeout figures, particularly in the last two years, realizing there's some risk in this investment.
"I'm not banking on big strikeout totals by him, because he is a big command guy," Ryan said.
Correia, though, downplayed the statistic that gets so much attention.
"When I was younger, I was concerned about ERA and strikeouts and those kinds of things, but the past few years I've been worrying about one thing, and that's winning baseball games," he said. "If I'm putting up wins, the team's doing better."
He added: "I can pitch different ways in different situations. If I need a strikeout, I think I have that capability, but I don't put a ton of stock of seeing how many guys I can strike out."
This is the type of pitch-to-contact and rely-on-defense starter the Twins have had success with in the past but have struggled with recently. After seasons of 99 and 96 losses, the organization has begun to steer away from that mold, acquiring top prospects Alex Meyer and Trevor May in separate trades during the last two weeks with Washington and Philadelphia. But those moves are more for 2015 than 2013, so Ryan still needed to find some experience on the market.
Twins starters went 39-75 with a 5.40 ERA last year, ahead of only Colorado. After adding right-hander Vance Worley in the deal with the Phillies that forced the Twins to give up center fielder Ben Revere, they appear to have three-fifths of the rotation filled, with left-hander Scott Diamond the only returner assured of a spot.
Nick Blackburn, Samuel Deduno, Cole De Vries, Liam Hendriks and P.J. Walters are among the holdovers who will get another chance to join them in spring training, but none of them did enough to put themselves in any more of a favorable position than anyone else. Kyle Gibson, the team's first-round draft pick in 2009 who is coming back from elbow ligament-replacement surgery, is a candidate but will probably be on an innings limit.
Last year, the Twins signed veteran right-hander Jason Marquis to be their fifth starter, but he stumbled badly, posting an 8.47 ERA in seven starts with nine home runs allowed in 34 innings. He was released. Ryan said he didn't care to compare Marquis and Correia.
"Sometimes the fit just wasn't meant to be, and I don't have an explanation for that," Ryan said. "But when he left here and went to the Padres, he did fine."
Marquis went 6-7 in 15 starts for San Diego with a 4.04 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 93-plus innings.