KANSAS CITY, MO. — Max Kepler singled and scored a run Sunday, but also struck out twice. Andrelton Simmons wasn't in the starting lineup, but entered the game midway through and singled in his lone at-bat. Josh Donaldson walked once and scored, Alexander Colome watched the game from the bullpen, and Byron Buxton doubled in the first inning and and launched a tremendous 420-foot home run that bounced off the scoreboard behind the left-field seats.
A long, mostly discouraging and occasionally miserable Twins season came to an end Sunday with a 7-3 victory at Kansas City, and while the players recorded one final victory to avoid a 90-loss season, there was also a lot of looking around and wondering: Is this goodbye?
"Every team every year looks different. You make roster moves and you make adjustments and you try to put yourself in the best possible spot to win," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, himself seemingly certain to return for a fourth season, said before the season finale. "We're living moment-to-moment, taking today for what it is. You give everyone a hug, you have a conversation, [but] it's not going to be the same group showing up next year."
Change has rarely loomed as large for the Twins as it does now, however. For one thing, the finishing roster includes plenty of fill-ins who will soon lose their spots to some of the dozen players currently on the injured list. And even the corps of veterans appears headed toward a shakeup.
Simmons and Colome, brought to serve as a bridge to younger prospects, were mostly disappointing and are all but certain to move on. Kepler, finishing off the worst season of his career and with young outfielders coming up behind him, is a logical trade chip, and Buxton, finishing off the most promising year of his, might have priced himself out of town.
The Twins and Buxton's agents will discuss a long-term deal again this winter, but the emergence of his power and the proximity to free agency — now just 12 months away — have likely pushed his price tag to new heights, outstripped concerns about injury and made it less likely his side will accept much less than nine-figure market value. If the Twins don't want to make such a big investment, look for them to capitalize on that enormous value in a trade.
Then there's Donaldson, who had never played for a last-place team until this season, and had only failed to qualify for the postseason one other time in his 15-year professional career.
"Yeah, it is tough to go through losing. I do not enjoy losing," said the Twins' oldest position player, who recovered from an Opening Day hamstring injury to play in 135 games, second-most on the team, and produce 26 home runs and an .830 OPS. "It's been strenuous trying to figure it out and trying to put all the pieces together and trying to find areas where I can help, not only just myself, but help my teammates, help our staff just kind of get on the same page and figure it out."
The Twins touted Donaldson as the potential final piece to a championship contender when they signed him two winters ago. It hasn't quite turned out that way, and Donaldson turns 36 in December. Is he thinking about pursuing a more likely route to a title? Asking for a trade out of last place?
"This is what I signed up for. I signed up to be a Minnesota Twin," Donaldson said, seemingly a bit annoyed by the suggestion that he wouldn't live up to the final two years of his $94 million contract. "I want to win here."
It appeared so possible six months ago, when the Twins roared out of spring training with the look of a potential champion, having infused their 2019 and 2020 division winners with promising rookies and some pitching experience. But things fell apart quickly once the games counted; the pitching additions mostly did more harm than good; and injuries hollowed out the lineup. The Twins wound up trading Nelson Cruz and Jose Berrios — their best home run hitter and most reliable starter, respectively — the deadline, and limped home with only one of their top eight starting pitchers available.
The result: First to worst, a manager's nightmare.
"I take full responsibility for the direction that our season went in. We came in with a goal of winning the World Series, and we didn't reach our goals," Baldelli said. "There might have been times in April where I could have been harder on our group and just laid things out very flatly and talked about accountability early on."
Maybe it wouldn't have made any difference, not with Buxton out so long, not with Miguel Sano almost useless at the plate for the season's first two months, not with one-year deals given J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker turning into disasters far beyond their minor price.
Baldelli points to a new resolve among the survivors, to a stretch of surprising victories against first-place teams in mid-August, to the Twins' 8-4 finish these past two weeks. We never quit, he says, perseverance being the logical surrogate for accomplishment on a last-place team. But he also doesn't want it to happen again, and if that means Sunday was about goodbyes, so be it.
"We have work to do. We know it. We are going to own it going forward," Baldelli said. "We owe it to the fans, we owe it to the organization. We owe it to the supporters of the Minnesota Twins to do better, and we're going to step on it this offseason and get to it."