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No major overhaul needed during the offseason

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins were staring at seismic changes at this time last year. They were about to let Torii Hunter walk as a free agent and trade Johan Santana. Joe Nathan was one year from free agency, and they had yet to lock up Jus...

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins were staring at seismic changes at this time last year.

They were about to let Torii Hunter walk as a free agent and trade Johan Santana.

Joe Nathan was one year from free agency, and they had yet to lock up Justin Morneau with a long-term deal.

Bill Smith's first offseason as general manager was anything but bland. He traded Santana, Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. By opening night, the Twins had a revamped starting rotation and six new players in the starting lineup.

Outsiders naturally viewed it as a rebuilding year, but the Twins simply had reloaded on the fly. They lost Tuesday's one-game playoff to the White Sox 1-0. That's how close manager Ron Gardenhire came to a fifth division title in seven years -- one measly run.


Nothing fancy

A new offseason began Wednesday, and instead of a major overhaul this time, look for the Twins to do standard maintenance.

Expect fewer national headlines, though that won't mean the organization is resting on its laurels.

"I think we have the nucleus of our '09 team here, but we'll explore every avenue we can to see if we can get better," said Twins assistant general manager Ron Antony.

It would be easy for the Twins to get complacent, considering their current contract structure.

Joe Mauer is under contract through 2010, Nathan 2011, and Morneau 2013.

Of their pending free agents, the Twins' biggest decision is whether to retain Nick Punto, and it sounds as if they will. They only have two players who are arbitration eligible -- Jason Kubel and Matt Guerrier -- and neither will break the bank.

Budget bullpen


Meanwhile, the Twins have staged an absolute coup with their starting pitching.

At a time when former Twins pitchers Kyle Lohse ($41 million) and Carlos Silva ($48 million) are swimming in money, their current starting five could return for next season at less than $500,000 apiece.

The trouble with cheap young talent, however, is the price goes up rapidly after three years in the big leagues.

At this time next year, Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano and Glen Perkins all could qualify for salary arbitration.

It might save the Twins big bucks down the road if they sign a those pitchers long-term this offseason.

"It depends on what the players and their agents are looking for," Antony said. "There's some give and take on both sides, but we're willing to explore those things."

Lean times

After spending a franchise-record $71 million on payroll in 2007, the Twins cut back to $57 million this year, though signing bonuses for Morneau and Michael Cuddyer put their actual expenditures closer to $70 million.


In July and August, the Twins tried working trades for Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre and lefthanded pitcher Jarrod Washburn, who are under contract for $12 million and $10.4 million, respectively, next year.

Those efforts failed, but it showed the Twins' willingness to expand the payroll. They have long said they'll spend more as they get closer to opening the new ballpark in 2010.

Next year, they'll spend $41 million on Mauer, Morneau, Nathan and Michael Cuddyer. But with about 18 others -- including Denard Span, Alexi Casilla and Kevin Slowey -- making close to the major league minimum ($400,000), there's room to add talent from the free-agent or trade market.

Trade talks

The Twins have had internal talks about White Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera, a pending free agent. And maybe it'll be easier to pry Beltre away from the Mariners, when Seattle hires a new GM.

The Twins have an outfield surplus with Cuddyer, Span, Gomez, Kubel and Delmon Young, so perhaps they'll dangle one on the trade market.

Those talks probably won't get going until after the GM meetings in early November. For now, the Twins will focus on taking care of their own.

Look for negotiations on a new contract extension for Gardenhire to begin next week. He signed his current two-year extension in October 2006.


It won't take long for the sting of Tuesday's loss to wear off, as the Twins know how valuable this season was for their stable of young players.

"Let me tell you what," Gardenhire said. "When we left spring training, we would probably say, 'OK, we'll take a one-game playoff for the division championship.' I don't think too many people gave us that chance."

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