Minneapolis — The Minnesota Twins, candidates for contraction last offseason, won't make it to the World Series after all. Their chances of making it to the postseason next year might depend on whether owner Carl Pohlad is willing to come up with the money to keep his young talent together.
"We have to keep this team together," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "If we do that, hopefully we can make it two steps further next year. Hopefully Mr. Pohlad will step up to the plate and get it done."
Finishing three wins shy of the World Series was a surprise to most considering the team didn't find out until shortly before spring training that baseball's plan to fold the franchise failed and that its payroll was fourth-lowest in the majors.
The Twins, who lost the AL championship series 4-1 to Anaheim, aren't in danger of losing any key players to lucrative contract offers by big-market teams.
They're far too young for that.
But center fielder Torii Hunter, left fielder Jacque Jones, first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz and designated hitter David Ortiz are eligible for salary arbitration.
Plus, the new labor agreement in addition to tabling contraction until 2006 raised the minimum salary to $300,000 for next season.
Pohlad still searching for a new stadium to attract more revenue said earlier in the season he didn't want to pay more than the $41 million he's shelling out for player salaries this year.
Bringing everyone back, however, figures to cost another $10 million to $15 million.
To save some money, the Twins might have to trade someone like Jones or Mientkiewicz or starting pitcher Rick Reed, who will make $8 million next year.
Replacing Jones and Reed would be easier than others because of the excess of prospects the Twins have bouncing between the majors and Triple-A.
"Nothing's for granted," Mientkiewicz said. "I don't want to go anywhere else, but you never know. I'm going to go home, work as hard as I can for whatever uniform I'm going to wear next year. With what happened last winter, you don't count your chickens before they hatch."
General manager Terry Ryan will have some difficult decisions to make this winter, but in molding the roster he won't stray from the philosophies that have guided this team.
"As long as you keep your pitching and defense intact and working well," Ryan said, "you're probably going to have success."
That was the case this year.
Hunter and Mientkiewicz lived up to their Gold Glove awards, Jones and third baseman Corey Koskie played well enough to win one this year and the Twins made a major-league low 74 errors.
Despite significant time missed by starting pitchers Brad Radke, Eric Milton and Joe Mays, the rotation was one of the majors' deepest thanks to Reed (15-7, 3.78 ERA) and Kyle Lohse (13-8, 4.23).
And the bullpen, thought to be a weakness in March, was incredible. Eddie Guardado set a team record with 45 saves, J.C. Romero turned into one of the league's nastiest lefties and LaTroy Hawkins (6-0, 2.13) salvaged his career.
Though the lineup's lack of a big-time hitter showed in the ALCS, several Twins made strides at the plate.
Hunter was an All-Star, hitting 29 homers with 94 RBIs. Jones (27 HRs, 85 RBIs) and Pierzynski both hit .300.
"We didn't want this season to end," first-year manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We did some really good things this year. We did some things that people said we couldn't do. On the flip side, we wanted to go further. We thought that we could. This team never quit, never stopped and never quit believing in themselves. It just didn't work out."