The Minnesota Twins have a lot on their plate this winter. As they ponder a dive into MLB Free Agency, general manager Terry Ryan needs to decide whether Joe Mauer is their 2014 catcher, if they really can trust Brian Dozier at second base and if some of the bright prospects in the organization are ready for the leap to Minneapolis.
However, there is one glaring need that must be addressed.
This would be the team's starting pitching, who's performance has been enjoyable as a trip to the dentist in recent seasons. In 2013, the Twins ranked last in starting rotation ERA a year after finishing a "respectable" 29th.
While they did see a numerical improvement in that area, it's time to realize the Twins have a pitching problem and must find a way to fix it.
Conventional wisdom says that the Twins will try to make a trade instead of throwing money at the problem, but the Twins do not have many major league assets. They could dive into their rich minor league system as well, but the pieces teams are likely asking for represent key parts of the team's future.
Ryan has to make a run in the free-agent market, and it can't be the team's traditional approach of high-risk, medium-reward signings. The Twins need legitimate starting pitching and they need it now without crossing their fingers that somebody can repeat a fluky career year.
Here's a look at some guys that the Twins should be looking at once free agency commences.
A.J. Burnett doesn't offer much in terms of upside, but he can become a valuable piece to a young Twins staff.
Burnett represents the company line of being a mentor for a team like the Twins. He'll turn 37 in January, but he's also won a World Series ring and has pitched in several big spots during his stints for the Florida (now Miami) Marlins, New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates. (There was also a modest stint for the Toronto Blue Jays mixed in.)
He was in that role a season ago for the Pirates as they had their first winning season since 1992. While he was mentoring young arms Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke, he also performed well on the mound as he flirted with 200 innings despite missing time with a calf injury and went 10-11 with a 3.30 earned run average.
There's a good chance the Pirates won't let him hit the open market, but he would be a target that the Twins wouldn't mind handing a generous check to.
While the Twins shouldn't be going for the high-risk, medium-reward guys, Phil Hughes is a guy that doesn't fall into that category.
Hughes' problem has not been his stuff. According to Fangraphs, his fastball in 2013 was 92.3 miles per hour which is on par with his career average of 92.2. He also hasn't experienced any arm trouble, but has seen some back issues which should clear up over the offseason.
Still, people will point at Hughes' disasterous 4-14 season from 2013 and ask why this signing isn't different than Mike Pelfrey.
Two words: Yankee Stadium.
Hughes has struggled since the house that Jeter built was constructed in 2010 as opponents have taken advantage of the fly-ball pitcher for a 1.4 home runs per nine innings ratio since then. That's compared to a 0.9 HR/9 ratio during his first three seasons in the league.
If you take him out of the hitter's paradise in the Bronx and stick him in Target Field, there's a good chance the Twins could have a 27-year-old gem that could give them innings.
Terry Ryan loves cheap signings with some potential, but Hughes could offer more than his stats suggest.
Another name that might spark Terry Ryan's interest is right-hander Josh Johnson, who just completed an injury-plagued campaign with the Toronto Blue jays.
Like Hughes, Johnson's 2013 numbers aren't going to have anybody calling his agent the second free agency opens, but he could be a guy that can help a Twins staff that has nothing to lose.
Prior to 2013, Johnson embarked on a stretch where he had a 44-27 record with a 3.06 ERA between 2008 and 2012.
Numbers like that were having general managers wondering what he could have fetched on the open market after going 11-6 with a 2.30 ERA in 2010, but that train got derailed the next season when he underwent Tommy John surgery.
Gambling on starters who have been hurt is one thing. Gambling on starters who have a reputation as a solid major league pitcher is another. This is one bet that the Twins will want to throw their money down.
At the beginning of 2013, it looked like this summer was going to be the beginning of the end for Ubaldo Jimenez. By the end of the season, we're wondering which general manager is going to take the risk that his season was not a fluke.
This summer, the light came back on for the enigmatic right-hander as he went 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA for the Tribe. That's impressive considering he got better as the year went on with a 2.52 ERA in his final 20 starts and a 1.76 ERA in his final ten starts.
What the Twins need to decide is whether the late-season surge for Jimenez was a trend or a mirage. It might be worth the money to find that out.
Some Twins fans would freak at the headline "Twins sign Santana," but it wouldn't be Johan coming back for one last turn with the team. The Santana I'm thinking of would be Ervin, who just had a renaissance season with the Kansas City Royals.
A change of scenery proved to be what the erratic right-hander needed after being traded from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as he went 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA.
He has the stuff to dominate hitters at times, but he just needs to find that happy medium to give the Twins a dynamic threat in a rotation full of No. 5 starters.
His inconsistency would give pitching coach Rick Anderson flashbacks of trying to harness Francisco Liriano, but the Twins need something other than flat-90s fastballs out of their rotation. Santana would fit that bill.
Chris Schad is a Minnesota Twins Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. His work has also been featured on Pro Football Spot and the Yahoo Contributor Network. You can follow Chris on Twitter @crishad.