MINNEAPOLIS -- Another first-round sweep out of the playoffs was tough enough for the Twins in 2020 without considering that it might have been the best chance for this current core of players to make a deep run -- though the window of contention remains open.
The Twins built that young core of position players and pitchers, developed it together at the right time and added both star power (Josh Donaldson) and playoff experience on short-term deals (Rich Hill, Tyler Clippard, Alex Avila, Sergio Romo, Nelson Cruz and Marwin Gonzalez).
All of the pieces were there on paper for a deep playoff run -- but once again, it didn't materialize after the Twins bowed out in a Wild Card Series sweep to the Astros. Now, the players in that latter group could be out the door -- as could Jake Odorizzi and Trevor May, mainstays of the pitching staff the last several years.
In the meantime, the next young core is already knocking at the door -- and, in some cases, has already arrived.
This should be a busy offseason for the Twins considering the outgoing talent alone. At some point, they'll also likely need to make a decision about whether they want to, again, build around the 2020 core that looked so strong on paper, or take the plunge with a greater reliance on their next wave of young talent to fuel another playoff run.
With that in mind, here are five questions the Twins face this offseason:
1. Who will be back in the outfield?
At one point many years ago, this "Nothing falls but raindrops" outfield of Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler looked to be the anchor of the Twins' playoff future. Once again, those hopes were derailed by injuries, and those three started together in only 19 of the 60 games this regular season -- and in only one of two postseason games.
Was that their last go-around?
No. 2 prospect Alex Kirilloff arrived with a playoff start in Game 2 of the American League Wild Card Series. The Twins clearly think he's ready for the Majors. No. 12 prospect Brent Rooker's bat also looked MLB-ready in a summer cameo before a season-ending injury, and No. 3 prospect Trevor Larnach was already on track to debut sometime in 2020 or '21 as well. (That's not to mention No. 15 prospect Gilberto Celestino, who was added to the 40-man roster last winter.)
Rosario is under one more year of team control and added a healthy dose of walks to his toolkit, but he was due a $7.75 million salary in a normal 2020 season and would likely earn a healthy raise in arbitration. If the Twins feel they could replace most of his production at a discount, he could be a non-tender candidate. Otherwise, Kepler's cost-controlled future and Buxton's upside could make them unorthodox -- yet appealing -- trade possibilities.
2. Who will be the designated hitter?
Both Cruz and the Twins have interest in a reunion. Can the sides get a deal done to lock in the 40-year-old for another go-around in Minneapolis?
Even at his advanced age, Cruz is coming off two of the best seasons of his career (1.031 OPS in 2019 and .992 OPS in '20). He led the Twins in homers and finished top-five in the AL both years, and Cruz will likely have a pair of top-10 MVP Award voting finishes to show for it. His last deal guaranteed him $14 million for the first year and gave the Twins a $12 million option for a second year that turned out to be a no-brainer.
It might be trickier this time around given the relative lack of productive designated hitters on the market, especially if the position is introduced to the National League on a full-time basis.
If the Twins can't agree to terms with Cruz, they do have internal options. Rooker has done nothing but hit as a Minor Leaguer, and his lack of defensive upside likely profiles him as a designated hitter in the long term. Miguel Sanó could slide over to DH some of the time given Kirilloff's ability to play first base. Mitch Garver could also be a candidate due to the emergence of Ryan Jeffers.
3. How much can the team rely on its young talent in 2021?
Speaking of Jeffers, the No. 6 prospect in the organization looks to have the inside track to the Opening Day job in 2021 after the Twins gave the highly anticipated rookie both starting nods in the Wild Card Series against Houston. He'll slot in seamlessly on defense at minimum, and he never looked out of his league at the plate with three homers and a .791 OPS in 26 games.
Alongside Jeffers, Kirilloff, Larnach and Royce Lewis, top pitching prospects Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran were also likely to factor into the Twins' plans for 2021 had COVID-19 not disrupted this season.
But all of those players had their development timelines put on hold by the lack of a true Minor League season in 2020. Though Jeffers, Kirilloff, Larnach, Lewis and Duran saw intrasquad action at the alternate training site in St. Paul, Minn., there's really no precedent for the Twins to figure out what kind of impact this had on their development, and how that might translate to the field in '21. The same goes for Edwar Colina and Dakota Chalmers.
The Twins clearly will hope to contend again next season. To what extent can they count on these young players? Figuring out the answer to that question will inform the answers to the next two.
4. Could core lineup pieces could be on the trade block?
The Twins' confidence in Jeffers, Kirilloff and Larnach in particular could inform some trade decisions this offseason.
As discussed earlier, the outfield could prove a decision point in that regard. Kepler has been one of the Twins' more consistent contributors over the last few seasons, with marked improvement against left-handed pitching during his breakout 2019. He's under team control through 2023. Buxton's upside is also undeniable, but would a trade partner take a chance on his troubled injury history if the Twins want to make room for Kirilloff or Larnach?
The same question might exist in the case of Garver. His market value undoubtedly took a huge hit in 2020, when he struggled to a .511 OPS in 23 games. Still, the upside of his 31 homers and .995 OPS from his Silver Slugger season at an offensively challenged position in '19 could bring back some value if the Twins have a good amount of faith in Jeffers.
5. Where will the rotation depth come from?
The same question exists on the pitching side. Can the Twins expect production befitting of a playoff run from Duran and Balazovic?
The Twins already have solid production atop their rotation in Kenta Maeda, José Berríos and Michael Pineda. Behind them, the Twins have Randy Dobnak, who raced off to a fast start in 2020 but tailed off, and Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe, who struggled from start to finish. With the departures of Hill, Odorizzi and Homer Bailey from the starting rotation, the Twins will be in the market for starting pitchers.
If they have some level of confidence in Duran and Balazovic to fill those spots to some extent, it could involve less of a deep dive in free agency or in the trade market to address rotation needs, especially considering the upside in both of those arms.
Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.