None of them were spectacular and two of them aren't around anymore, but the Twins would not have won the AL Central last season without the contributions of Carl Pavano, Orlando Cabrera, Jon Rauch and Ron Mahay.

The bullpen was flailing and failing until the set-up men provided the stability that wasn't coming from the shuttle from Rochester; Pavano filled a spot in the rotation that kept the Twins from continuing to experiment with the overmatched and unworthy; Cabrera provided enough highlight moments to disguise his substandard on-base percentage, raggedy arm and error-prone ways.

More important than any of their individual contributions, however, is how those successes have energized an organization that had been deservedly criticized for sitting on its hands.

With the Orlando Hudson signing in place, the Twins have picked up four new players this winter who should play significant roles in 2010.

How is Hudson not an upgrade over the second-base conundrum of last season? Plus he puts to rest debate about who should bat second.

Jim Thome provides a dimension that simply didn't exist -- a bench slugger and part-time starter who can mess with the plans of an opposing manager in a way that Brian Buscher never quite accomplished.

J.J. Hardy played badly last season, but I'm betting he'll return to a form closer to his two previous seasons -- when he hit a combined 50 home runs. Plus he won't be miscast as a No. 2 hitter out of necessity. Hardy or Cabrera? Easy call for me.

Clay Condrey or Bobby Keppel in the bullpen? Glad you got it together in Game 163, Bobby. Enjoy pitching in Japan!

And Pat Neshek's back!

There's no guarantee all of these moves will work out, but the good news is that all of them make sense. They are generating excitement and, as surprised as some people may be, they are moves that Twins management owed their fans in return for the increased revenue from Target Field.

And they owed it to the players who pulled off an improbable rally to overtake Detroit in the final weeks of last season, a September comeback that already tends to be overlooked compared with the thrills of Game 163 and the disappointment of another first-round playoff exit.

Now, for the obligatory reference to signing Joe Mauer. More than anything that Mauer has said, I go back to the words of Justin Morneau at the press conference in November hours after Mauer had been announced as the American League's MVP:  "The biggest thing now isn't the money. It's going to be whether or not he feels we can win every day with the talent we have."

I assume Mauer is impressed.

You can be impressed, too. And only a fool will accuse you of drinking the Kool-Aid.






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Leyland: Ump apologized for missing Game 163 call

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What's left to say about Nick Punto? A lot, I guess