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Front office ready to take Twins to next level

Falvey, Levine prioritizing prospect growth, smart signings to build contender
MLB.com @RhettBollinger

MINNEAPOLIS -- At a news conference after the 2016 season, chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine laid out their plan for the Twins: They wanted to build a consistent winner by means of collaboration, revamping their analytics department to go along with an already strong core of scouts.

Falvey and Levine haven't wavered from the grand scheme after a surprising 2017 campaign that saw the Twins improve from a 103-loss '16 to winning 85 games en route to the American League Wild Card Game. Minnesota is now in a contending phase, and signed manager Paul Molitor to a three-year extension this offseason.

MINNEAPOLIS -- At a news conference after the 2016 season, chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine laid out their plan for the Twins: They wanted to build a consistent winner by means of collaboration, revamping their analytics department to go along with an already strong core of scouts.

Falvey and Levine haven't wavered from the grand scheme after a surprising 2017 campaign that saw the Twins improve from a 103-loss '16 to winning 85 games en route to the American League Wild Card Game. Minnesota is now in a contending phase, and signed manager Paul Molitor to a three-year extension this offseason.

"The three of us have agreed that now that we have been able to get over the hurdle of the first year ... that we are looking forward to the next chapter even more," Molitor said. "That's a very positive thing -- we all are excited to be part of that dynamic of the three of us working together."

The Twins are built similar to the World Series champion Astros, buoyed by a strong core of young position players like Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco. But pitching has been an issue for the Twins ever since they last won the AL Central title in 2010, so the front office has taken steps to improve it.

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The bullpen should be much stronger this year, with the signings of closer Fernando Rodney, right-hander Addison Reed and left-hander Zach Duke. They join a bullpen that already includes Trevor Hildenberger, Taylor Rogers and Ryan Pressly as well as up and coming young relievers such as Alan Busenitz, Gabriel Moya and J.T. Chargois.

The rotation, however, still lacks depth beyond right-handers Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson, and Santana is expected to miss 10-12 weeks following surgery on his right middle finger Tuesday. Minnesota does have prospects close to the Majors, such as Stephen Gonsalves and Fernando Romero, while Adalberto Mejia showed flashes as a rookie last year. Otherwise, the Twins will look to players coming off injury, like Trevor May and Phil Hughes, while Tyler Duffey will also be stretched out to start. Michael Pineda, signed to a two-year deal, could also return late in the year from Tommy John surgery.

Video: Alston breaks down Twins' rotation, bullpen for '18

It's a major reason why the Twins are likely to sign another starter before Spring Training, as they remain interested in the top names on the market -- Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb. The front office, however, has been reluctant to sign players to long-term deals, as the history of those moves show it rarely works out for the club down the road.

"We still have opportunity," Falvey said on MLB Network this week. "There are a lot players still on the board. We're active in those conversations daily. We have a chance to add to our group before we head down to Fort Myers."

The Twins are sticking to their principles, as they know making a splash wins headlines but doesn't always mean winning games, especially in the back end of long-term deals. It's also a reason why they're hesitant to cash in top prospects for immediate pitching help on the trade market, as they don't want to sacrifice their future for short-term needs.

Owner Jim Pohlad has given the front office leeway with the budget, however, and Minnesota has no players under contract beyond 2019, which gives the club financial flexibility -- especially useful for the strong free agent class next winter.

"If we bring the right deal to Jim, he'll support it," Falvey said. "Any player we add, there won't be a budget limitation."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.

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