10/27/2003 7:18 PM ET
Twins facing free agent losses
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
Eddie Guardado will explore his options, but will give the Twins a chance to bring him back. (Ann Heisenfelt/AP)
MINNEAPOLIS -- For the first time in a few years, the Twins have many players able to test baseball's open market. Several are not hesitating to begin the process.
Pitcher LaTroy Hawkins and infielders Denny Hocking and Chris Gomez were among 71 Major League players that filed for free agency on Monday. Pitchers Eddie Guardado and Jesse Orosco and outfielder Shannon Stewart were in a group of 35 players that filed Sunday, the first day that they were eligible.
Two other Minnesota players, Kenny Rogers and Rick Reed, remain eligible to declare free agency before the Nov. 9 deadline.
For Guardado, a Twin since 1993, declaring free agency marked a new frontier in his playing career.
"It was one of the scariest days of his life, but one of the most exciting too," Guardado's agent, Kevin Kohler, said Monday afternoon. "He doesn't know what to expect."
Twins general manager Terry Ryan and his staff spent most of the past week in Fort Myers, Fla. for organizational meetings. Talking about the free agents was one of many topics on the agenda.
Minnesota expects its 2004 payroll to equal the 2003 level of around $55 million. Difficult choices loom for the club, which also has five players eligible for raises via arbitration, and salary escalations built into the existing multi-year contracts of some of its other players.
"You'd like to have all your players back, but you have to be realistic too," Ryan said. "Whether everything fits is the question. You have so much money to spend for so many players. It's like a big puzzle."
Guardado appears to be one of the more challenging players to replace, should he land with another club. The closer has 86 saves over the past two seasons and has 98 saves in 110 chances since 2001. The Twins have few in-house candidates ready to assume the closer's job. If Hawkins and Rogers (a former closer in his days with Texas) also left, three players on the roster would tie for Minnesota's active lead in saves -- with one.
Before leaving town for the winter, the 33-year-old Guardado was hopeful, but not guaranteeing, he would return to Minnesota.
"You'd like to give the organization where you started a chance," Guardado said Oct. 6. "But you'd like to be treated fairly."
Kohler said that the Twins have not contacted his client. He was less optimistic than Guardado about returning to the Twins.
"They haven't given me any scenarios on how they would do it," Kohler said. "I think it's a long shot."
Guardado and Kohler have not revealed their desired contract length or salary figures. Kohler said Guardado would like to continue his career as a closer if possible.
"He loves that role and is successful at it," Kohler said. "But, he wouldn't be against setting up for a winning team that already has a closer."
Stewart, who batted .307 with 13 home runs and 73 RBIs in 2003, enjoyed a spectacular second half as the Twins' leadoff hitter. After his All-Star break trade from Toronto, he batted .322 with six homers and 38 RBIs.
The 29-year-old said he was comfortable playing in Minnesota, but he is expected to attract significant interest from other clubs.
Clubs will also court Hawkins, one of the American League's top relievers. The 30-year-old was frustrated that the club made no efforts to sign him or Guardado during the season and appeared leaning to departing.
Hawkins was 9-3 with a 1.86 ERA in 74 appearances with Minnesota in 2003. He has been with the Twins since 1995.
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