Five questions the Twins face this offseason

September 30th, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS -- After a disappointing season that saw the club out of contention by early July, the Twins are ready put 2018 behind them and focus on building a consistent winner going forward.

Minnesota failed to build on its surprise run to the AL Wild Card Game in 2017, instead taking a step backwards for a variety of reasons, including the health and ineffectiveness of key players such as , and .

The Twins still have a young core built around , , , Max Kepler, Buxton and Sano, but there are question marks about Buxton, Sano and Kepler. There are several holes to fill on a roster that saw veterans such as and traded, and Joe Mauer has yet to decide whether to retire or return for 2019. It's going to be an important offseason for the Twins, so here's a look at five questions they're facing.

Can the Twins compete in 2019?

Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine must determine if they believe the club has the pieces to contend next season. The division doesn't figure to get much better next year with the White Sox, Tigers and Royals all rebuilding, but the Twins seemingly have a long way to go to reach the talent level of clubs like the Indians, Red Sox, Astros or Yankees. The Twins, however, finished with a .500 record after the Trade Deadline and do have payroll flexibility with Mauer and Santana both having their contracts coming off the books. They could look to add significant pieces to quickly get back to contention or aim to spend more of that money next offseason.

How aggressive will the Twins be in free agency?

The Twins have only roughly $30 million in guaranteed contracts for next season, and while up to 10 players could be eligible for arbitration raises this winter, there is plenty of money available to spend, considering their Opening Day payroll was $128 million in 2018. The front office will have to determine when to spend that money, as they have more talent on the way in the form of top prospects such as Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff and Brusdar Graterol. There are going to be some premium free agents available including Manny Machado and as well as top starting pitchers such as , and Charlie Morton, while and can opt out of their contracts. Given their history, it's unlikely they sign a player to a mega-deal, but they were interested in last offseason and have the payroll flexibility to make it happen.

Which positions will the Twins target via free agency or trade?

If Mauer decides to retire, Minnesota could be looking to add a first baseman/designated hitter as well as middle infield help after the departures of Escobar and Dozier. Bringing back Escobar isn't out of the question, and the Twins also haven't ruled out moving Polanco to second if they sign a capable shortstop. They have infielder Nick Gordon nearly ready for the Majors, but he had a rough second half at Triple-A. They're not likely to sign any outfielders and could have interest in the catching market, but will have , and on the roster. Starting pitching and finding a closer will be a priority.

How much more starting pitching does Minnesota need?

The Twins bring back , Berrios and Jake Odorizzi next year, while will be ready after rehabbing this year after Tommy John surgery. was solid before suffering a nerve injury in his left wrist, while the Twins also tried out a plethora of rookie starters such as , Kohl Stewart, , and Chase De Jong to various degrees of success. But adding a veteran starter would help stabilize the rotation, which still has question marks despite the depth of options. It appears revamping the bullpen will be more of an emphasis.

What will the bullpen look like next year?

After trading closer to the A's in early August, the Twins don't have an experienced closer on their roster. The bullpen figures to include , and , but the Twins are likely to try to find a veteran or two for the back end. Top relievers who will be free agents include , , , , and , but they also could look to the trade market. Expect a new closer in Minnesota in 2019.