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Rocky season guarantees Twins a 'very different' roster in 2019

Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer (7) and second baseman Brian Dozier (2) before the game against the Miami Marlins at Target Field in Minneapolis on June 7, 2016. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins finished on a strong note when a group of mostly unheralded prospects played hard for manager Paul Molitor and finished the season with a season-high, six-game winning streak. That last month of decent baseball was a nice surprise, but it's unlikely to be much of a factor in the Twins' offseason.

After season-ending injuries, free-agent busts, trade deadline deals and even an 80-game drug suspension decimated the projected starting lineup, the Twins are in for a major overhaul. Gone are longtime infield stalwarts, and run-producers, Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar, and maybe even Joe Mauer, one of only two players on the Twins' last division-winner in 2010.

"At this point, I can't necessarily pinpoint how much turnover I would expect," chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said Tuesday, Oct. 9. "But we will obviously have a very different roster going into spring training than we do now."

Falvey and general manager Thad Levine believe they still have a young core they can build around, but even that's in question after major steps backward by prized prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, each of whom played less than a full season and hit below .200 in 2018.

As important, Falvey and Levine fired Molitor, the manager they inherited when they succeeded longtime GM Terry Ryan before the 2017 season, so finding his replacement is first on their to-do list. Molitor, 62, had two winning seasons in four years, and led the Twins to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 with a wild-card berth last season, but they apparently were of differing minds regarding player development.

Expect the Twins to hire someone younger who hasn't become set in his ways.

"We're looking for someone who is truly open-minded," Falvey said. "We're looking for a leader; someone who will partner with us; someone who is looking to move this organization forward, not just the 25-man roster. We have every expectation, based on early conversations that we've had with internal and external candidates, that we are going to find that person."

There will be no shortage of candidates, some of whom are working for teams still in the playoffs, but who will they manage?

The Twins are looking for a second baseman, designated hitter and, if Mauer retires as expected after 15 seasons, a first baseman. They're also in the market for at least one starting pitcher and a closer.

Consider, as well, that shortstop Jorge Polanco, who missed the first half of the season after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, was a Molitor favorite and might not have an ardent patron in the new regime. Same goes for outfielder/DH Robbie Grossman, a solid singles hitter whose defensive skills are serviceable but limited.

Promising relievers in Taylor Rogers, Trevor May and Trevor Hildenberger figure to be back, but many of the players who helped win in September — outfielder Jake Cave, catcher Willians Astudillo, DH Tyler Austin — probably won't be leading candidates to start on Opening Day.

"I would anticipate we'll certainly be active early, as soon as we can be, around potential free agents and trades and otherwise," Falvey said. "We're going to focus ... on putting resources around our internal group, to advance that group, and then stay open-minded about free agency moving forward.

"We know we have openings on our team, maybe more in terms of free agents than we did maybe going in last year, particularly on the position player side. So we would anticipate being fairly active in that market early on."

The Twins were active offseason movers last season but free agency was largely a disaster: DH/first baseman Logan Morrison ($5.5 million) hit .186 in a season limited by a hip injury to 95 games; starter Lance Lynn ($12 million) was 7-8 with a 5.10 earned-run average before being dealt at the non-waiver trade deadline; reliever Addison Reed, owed $8.5 million next season, was 1-6 with a 4.50 ERA.

A trade for right-hander Jake Odorizzi, arbitration eligible after improving over the course of the season, might still bear fruit, but otherwise it wasn't a good offseason for the Twins. "Certainly I would say we never run from that," Falvey said.

Free agency won't kick into gear until the winter meetings Dec. 10-14 in Las Vegas.

"I feel like we made every decision with the best interest of moving this team forward over the medium and long term along the way," Falvey said. "So, I don't have any regret about the decisions we made, but I'm always going to go back and try and analyze what we could have done differently or better so that we're prepared to do that better in the future."

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