by Nick Nelson

Twins fans are generally a hopeful bunch. This is, in large part, a byproduct of the team's recent success -- they've missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons only once in the past decade, and have surmounted unthinkable deficits in dramatic fashion on multiple occasions. Beyond that, the people of Minnesota seem predisposed to optimism and positivity, at least when compared to some of the more venomous large markets.

Yet, as we prepare for the offseason to officially get underway, I'm sensing a great deal of despondence from the fan base when it comes to the 2012 team. In fact, many of the same commenters who scolded me for being overly negative in my preseason assessment of the 2011 club are now writing off the Twins' 2012 chances, dismissing the notion that they should rebuild with an eye on contending next season.

That's understandable. After all, the Twins lost 99 games this season, and they're plagued by persisting injuries, and their farm system is mostly barren in the upper levels. Still, we've gone through this whole song and dance too many times before. You can't write this team off.

While I didn't expect the Twins to come out on top of the AL Central this year, I did expect them to be competitive. And halfway through the season, they were. It's easy to forget this since our freshest memories are from those horrid final two months, where the team completely tanked and went 13-41, but in late July -- despite their horrible start and innumerable setbacks -- the Twins were six games out of first place and on the fringe of contention.

The offseason is a long time. It's a four-month span where players can dedicate themselves to resting and/or strengthening. There are no guarantees when it comes to Joe Mauer's knees, Justin Morneau's head, Francisco Liriano's shoulder or Scott Baker's elbow. But these same players that were key contributors for a 94-win team just a year ago are all eligible to return next year, and not one of them is older than 30. With better health, there's no reason they can't be the driving force behind a drastic team-wide improvement.

Granted, the Tigers appear to be in good shape right now, riding high after a very successful season that resulted in a postseason berth. But the same could have been said for the Twins a year ago. Crazy things happen in baseball. Unless Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski gets the green light to go on a shopping spree this winter, the AL Central should remain eminently winnable next year.

The flaws of this Minnesota roster are obvious and in some cases glaring. But, while the core players may be riddled with question marks, it's still a highly talented and relatively young crop. While an "all-in" approach for 2012 would be silly, the idea that Bill Smith and Co. should proceed as if the season is already lost is almost equally silly.

So, what's the best way to build for the long-term while remaining viable in the short term? We can discuss that on Monday when I share my offseason blueprint. Until then, you can brush up over the weekend by ordering a copy of the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook, which is being released today.

(Editors note: Thanks to one heck of a ballgame, the procrastinators have one more day to get it at the 40% off discounted price of $5.99. But this really is the last chance - unless we somehow have an eighth game on Saturday. After last night, I'm not totally ruling that out.)


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