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Ron Gardenhire will have a lot of new faces to watch this year, with only 11 players back from last year’s opener.

Marlin Levison, Dml - Star Tribune

Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, left, greets Sean Burroughs after the Twins defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 7-3 in a spring training baseball game Saturday, March 3, 2012, in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

David Goldman, AP

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has been as impressed as anybody by shortstop Brian Dozier this spring, but it sounds as if the team intends to start him at Class AAA this year -- unless Jamey Carroll or Alexi Casilla gets injured.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune file

Rand: Ch-ch-changes for the Twins

  • Article by: MICHAEL RAND
  • Star Tribune
  • April 3, 2012 - 6:28 AM

When the Twins start the season Friday at Baltimore, they will have only 11 players who were on last season's 25-player opening day roster. Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising considering the 99-loss disaster of 2011, combined with the front office shakeup that saw Terry Ryan return as general manager.

But this is, at least interesting: Those 11 players represent the smallest number of returning players from opening day one year to the next during the Ron Gardenhire Era. The lowest previous number was 12 holdovers from opening day 2003 to 2004. We unearthed that and a few other nuggets in looking back at Twins opening day rosters going back to 2001, though we found no perfect conclusions. (Note: This only includes players who were active members of 25-man rosters at the starts of seasons).

• Continuity can be linked to success. In Gardenhire's decade as manager, he had at least 17 players on his opening day roster who were also on the previous year's opening day roster: 2001 to 2002 (18), 2002 to 2003 (17) and 2005 to 2006 (17). In all three cases, the Twins won the division. In 2002 and 2003, success came in large part thanks to the core of players who broke through for an 85-victory season in 2001, Tom Kelly's final year as manager.

The 2005 Twins tumbled to 83-79 after three consecutive AL Central titles, but their 3.71 team ERA was good for seventh in MLB. Eight of the opening day pitchers from 2005 were on the 2006 roster -- including Johan Santana, Brad Radke and Joe Nathan -- helping anchor a staff that was third in MLB in ERA in 2006.

• Continuity hasn't always been a good thing. The Twins also had at least 15 holdovers from 2004 to 2005, 2006 to 2007 and 2010 to 2011. They missed the playoffs all three of those years, illustrating there is a fine line between established players and new blood.

• The Twins had at least 15 holdovers in five of Gardenhire's first six seasons as manager (with 2003 to 2004 being the lone exception). That speaks to organizational philosophy, but also to how many young, homegrown players they had under club control for many of those seasons. The big shift came from 2007 to 2008 -- Bill Smith's first offseason in charge, which included Torii Hunter departing via free agency as well as the Johan Santana and Matt Garza/Jason Bartlett trades. In each of 2008, 2009 and 2010, the Twins had 14 or fewer players on their opening day roster that were also on the year before. Of course, the Twins lost in a one-game playoff in 2008, won a one-game playoff (and the division) in 2009 and won the division again in 2010.

• The purge from 2011 to 2012 was based in large part on free-agent departures and the fact that he bullpen was a disaster last year and needed several new arms. Whether this retooling creates an on-field difference remains to be seen. What isn't in doubt: Gardenhire will see more new faces on opening day than he ever has as manager.

MICHAEL RAND

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