MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins have all sorts of openings to fill on their pitching staff this offseason, with plenty of uncertainty stemming from youth and injuries among the group that they'll need to build around. The AL Central division figures to be stronger in 2022, with Minnesota coming off a down year in a season during which it planned to contend for a third straight division title.
Even with all that in mind, Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey reiterated on Thursday that the Twins aren't planning to enter a rebuilding phase -- and will approach the offseason as such.
"I fully anticipate, this offseason we're going to try to find a way to get better for '22 and beyond," Falvey said. "I've approached each of the last three offseasons, really even going back after '17, with an approach: 'How do we find a way to get better now and in the future?' We talk about sustainability. In order to do that, you have to keep an eye on short-term and long-term.
"We're going to find a way to invest in next year's team. This is not with an eye toward five years down the line."
That will be easier said than done in an offseason that will be shrouded in uncertainty due to the possible expiration of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement early in the winter, adding to the Twins' considerable challenge.
Even without considering what all of that could entail, the Twins will need to assemble a starting rotation with the only real knowns appearing to be Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan, a pair of rookies with 25 combined career starts. Griffin Jax has struggled in his first big league season, while Devin Smeltzer, Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe, Jhoan Duran and Josh Winder all had chunks of their season wiped out by injury.
The Twins know that their path will likely involve a mix of veterans and young pitchers, but they'll also need to consider the context that their major veteran acquisitions for the rotation of last offseason -- J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker -- played no small part in the Twins' overall struggles this season.
"We've got to go take a deep look at everything in terms of how we acquire players, what those players are," Falvey said. "Sometimes, they do line up that way without getting great outcomes. I would say that we have to come back and evaluate that because we didn't hit on those for sure. Those guys didn't pitch as well as we thought they could have."
And as the Twins say they're looking to invest in the 2022 team, there's also no getting around the fact that they could again face a decision point with Byron Buxton, who set a career-high with his 17th homer of the season in Thursday's series finale against the Tigers and has seen his talent translate to on-field results at a previously unseen level.
The Twins and Buxton have been open about the fact that they've engaged in talks about a possible extension to keep the center fielder in Minnesota for the long-term -- but those talks also notably didn't result in an agreement ahead of the July 30 Trade Deadline.
Buxton is set to be a free agent at the end of the 2022 season, and much like how the Twins traded José Berríos to the Blue Jays for a large prospect haul at the Trade Deadline, the decision point on Buxton looms if they're going to get more than late-season rental value out of a possible trade. Of course, there's still time for the sides to reach an agreement -- but will things have changed between the Trade Deadline and now to help the sides bridge the gap?
"I don't know," Falvey said. "I think it's just a later portion of the year, and we're going to have those conversations. When you're in-season, sometimes, those dialogues are different than they are in the offseason. There's a lot of other considerations at that point and you're further along in the process. We've just always maintained open dialogue."
A trade of a key player doesn't always have to mean that a team's fortunes will get worse. Just look at the Mariners, who traded closer Kendall Graveman to their division rival Astros at the Trade Deadline and are in the thick of a push for an improbable Wild Card spot. Consider, too, that the acquisition of Joe Ryan in the deal with the Rays for Nelson Cruz will likely pay dividends for the Twins in 2022.
The Twins' ability to get better in the short term for next season will revolve largely around how those two questions -- pitching and Buxton's future -- are resolved. And in their public statements, they're approaching things with the stated goal of a better team in '22.
"As far as general overarching goals, I anticipate competing next year, I'll tell you that," manager Rocco Baldelli said.
"The intention is, on our level in the clubhouse, that we want to win, we want to compete, and we want to do it now," Baldelli added. "I think that's probably the most fair way to say that right now."