It's almost as if two different front offices run the Twins.

The one that manages the farm system, pitching and payroll, the one that decides which players to re-sign and takes the long view of franchise health, is exceptional.

The one that tries to fix the flaws of the 25-man roster each winter is, to be kind, in a slump.

Last winter, the front office helped ensure the future health of the franchise by signing Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan to lucrative long-term contracts.

The Morneau deal is a bargain. Cuddyer's injuries made his deal look unnecessary, but he was a wise gamble because of his potential righthanded power and leadership. The Nathan deal was a steal that enabled the Twins to come within one game of the playoffs in 2008.

Entering 2009 and beyond, the Twins might be the franchise best set up for long-term success. They possess zero debilitating contracts, and they were surprise contenders in 2008 on a remarkably low budget. They, unlike the Yankees, will not require huge expenditures in the free agent market to contend.

But the same people who built the best fiscally-responsible roster in baseball failed at augmenting it.

The Delmon Young trade -- essentially, Young and Brendan Harris for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett -- was a disaster. Bartlett is better than Harris. More important, Garza is better than Young. If the Twins had kept Garza and found themselves with a surplus of young pitching, they might have been able to make a trade-deadline deal that would have sent them to the playoffs.

The Johan Santana trade proved underwhelming, but the Twins' choices weren't appetizing. Carlos Gomez, for all of his obvious flaws, was one of the reasons the Twins overachieved in 2008, and his talent and fearlessness could enable him to blossom into a very good player if his hitting approach matures.

Because national media reports about what the Red Sox were truly offering seem inaccurate or inflated, the Twins might have had only two choices last winter: Keep Santana for a year, lose him in free agency and receive two draft picks as compensation, or trade him to the Mets.

Keeping Santana might have been the way to go. He would have pitched the Twins into the playoffs this season, and the two draft picks might have yielded as many quality players as the Mets trade did.

The front office failed in acquiring helpful players last winter. Mike Lamb, Adam Everett and Craig Monroe were busts. Livan Hernandez at least did his job despite his predictably high ERA, winning 10 games while allowing Francisco Liriano to ease his way back to the majors.

It is a testament to the strength of the Twins' drafting and developing that their front office could have such a horrific winter without preventing the team from contending.

Standing pat -- or making another half-dozen horrific decisions -- won't work this winter. The Twins can't expect exceptional years from Morneau and Joe Mauer again, can't expect every one of the young pitchers to continue to improve at a predictable pace. Baseball doesn't work that way.

So the front office must do the following:

1. Trade Young while there still might be general managers (Jim Bowden of the Nationals?) foolish enough to take him.

2. Acquire a power righthander for the bullpen. Don't count on Pat Neshek coming back at full strength, or on Matt Guerrier or Jesse Crain filling that role. Be proactive.

3. Pursue Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre. The M's asking price was exorbitant this summer. Try again, because Beltre's power righthanded bat in the No. 5 hole would make this a much deeper, better, lineup, and lineup depth is as important in October as pitching depth is during the summer.

4. Find an everyday shortstop who can hit. Orlando Cabrera is a free agent, and he would produce double the RBI of a traditional Twins shortstop. Or move Alexi Casilla to short and find an everyday second baseman who can hit. Don't expect choppers and bunts to be as productive in 2009 as they were in 2008.

5. For once, instead of thinking long-term, recognize that your best players -- Mauer, Morneau, Nathan -- are healthy and in their primes. Try to win it all before that changes.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP.