NEWYORK-The decisionmakers for the Twins must undertake a delicate operation this winter.
They must alter their team chemistry and organizational philosophies to better enable them to compete against powerhouse teams in the playoffs, without damaging the admirable ethic that has served them so well over the past 10 regular seasons.
They must, like some mystery novelists, try to write the ending before crafting the beginning.
Here are my point-by-point recommendations on how to react in the wake of the Twins' most embarrassing playoff loss in recent history:
1. DON'T BLAME THE MANAGER
Ron Gardenhire is one of the most important figures in one of the most successful franchises in sports.
If Gardenhire has a relevant flaw, it's that he is highly emotional and intense. That's also his greatest strength. In the new American sports culture that draws its wisdom from football, too many people think a baseball manager can alter a game the way a football coach can call plays or substitute quarterbacks.
Some of the greatest managers of all time enjoyed limited postseason success. Atlanta was right to revere Bobby Cox despite his team's playoff failures, and Minnesota should regard Gardenhire similarly.
2. ACQUIRE POWER ARMS
The Yankees and teams of their ilk love facing pitchers of the Twins' ilk -- strike-throwers lacking dominant stuff.
Throwing strikes is a wonderful way to navigate the regular season. Amassing strikeouts is more important against quality hitters who lengthen at-bats, take pitches and smash anything that wanders toward the middle of the plate.
The teams that have beaten the Yankees in the postseason -- the 2001 Diamondbacks with Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, the 2002 Angels with their power bullpen, the 2003 Marlins with Josh Beckett, the 2004 Red Sox with Schilling and Pedro Martinez, the 2006 Tigers with Justin Verlander, etc. -- were able to strike out the Yankees' best hitters in the biggest situations.
The Twins need to find a hard-throwing ace to lead their rotation, and they need more reliable power arms in the bullpen. Neither are easy to acquire. The Twins must look for more power arms in the draft and on the trade market.
Delmon Young is at his highest value, and the organization is down on Kevin Slowey. Could they offer those two plus a prospect and swing a trade for Zack Greinke? That might not be possible, but it's the right way to think.
3. GET YOUNGER AND FASTER
The Twins' transformation into a team filled with reliable veteran everyday players helped them during the regular season but not in the playoffs. Facing a Yankee team with a weak-armed catcher in Jorge Posada, the Twins found themselves with only one starter who could run, center fielder Denard Span.
While Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy were comforting because of their sure hands and experience, by the end of the year neither had produced much offensively or shown range in the field. The Twins, who won't be able to afford bringing everyone back, should get younger, cheaper and faster up the middle.
One possibility is starting Alexi Casilla at short and Luke Hughes at second, with Trevor Plouffe and Matt Tolbert waiting their turn. Casilla would give them speed and range and would produce more runs than Hardy. Hughes would lack range but add pop to the lineup.
4. MAKE THE RIGHT DECISIONS ON YOUR FREE AGENTS
Jesse Crain failed the Twins when they needed him most in the playoffs. Time to let him move on.
Carl Pavano remains valuable because the other strike-throwing righthanders in the Twins' rotation -- Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey -- were unreliable this year.
I hear Pavano wants a three-year deal worth $30 million. The Twins won't pay that. If they can get him for two years at $15 or $16 million, he's worth the investment because of his settling effect on the rotation.
Hudson won't be back. Hardy will be only if he's willing to take a large pay cut. Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes are gone. Matt Guerrier could stay if he isn't trying to break the bank.
The Twins have learned they are quite good at building bullpens even under the worst circumstances. They shouldn't overspend on the 'pen.
5. BRING BACK JIM THOME
The Twins might have to overspend to keep Jim Thome. He's worth it. He's a key figure in the clubhouse, he was baseball's best bargain this year, and he wants to come back. Pay him extra to be a player/coach so he hits his 600th homer as a Twin, even if he winds up being a glorified pinch-hitter.
6. CROSS YOUR FINGERS
Fans like to think of sporting events as sheer tests of will, but luck and circumstance matter, too. If the Twins had drawn the Rays instead of the Yankees, they might be preparing for the ALCS today. If Justin Morneau had remained healthy for either of the past two playoff series, he might have produced the key hit that could have changed the Twins' fortunes, or his presence may have helped Joe Mauer perform to his capabilities.
To beat a deeper, richer team like the Yankees, the Twins will need luck and health as well as power and guts.
This October, they lacked all four.
jim souhan • firstname.lastname@example.org