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The Elephant in the Room

Attached Image: mauer.jpg Earlier this week, Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press asked Terry Ryan whether the team's recent run of success has affected the way he's preparing for the offseason.

"Regardless of what you look like right now, you still look at the club and figure out where you're headed and where you need to add," Ryan told Walters. "My focus and our focus will always be, as you go through a season, to look at what you've got and what you've got coming up."

What the Twins have got and what they've got coming up are one in the same: bats.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]Their lineup is looking strong, and everyone is locked in for next year and beyond. In the offings, you've got Chris Parmelee obliterating Triple-A, while Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia thrive in Double-A.

Where they need to add, clearly, is pitching. Everyone agrees on that. Opinions differ on the scope of the project.

Should they focus solely on adding young, high-upside arms, even if it means disassembling their current core and delaying their window of contention by a few years?

Or should they try to keep this group largely intact, picking up pitchers wherever they can and hoping for some good things to happen in 2013?

From my perspective, there are a number of ways to work toward putting a contending team on the field next year that don't jeopardize the organization's long-term outlook. And not doing so would be an injustice to the franchise's most valuable (and highly-paid) asset: Joe Mauer.

You may have noticed that Mauer has been rather awesome this year in spite of the club's struggles. After a sluggish start, he's turned it on the summer months and is back to ranking among the elite in batting average and on-base percentage while logging significant time at catcher.

The likelihood that Mauer keeps playing at this level diminishes a bit next year. And a little bit more the year after that. And so on. That's because he'll turn 30 next spring, and historically baseball players have often started to show decline as they age into their fourth decade of life. Particularly guys with substantial injury histories.

The time to build a championship-caliber team around Mauer is now, while he remains in his physical "prime." As the years pass, it becomes more difficult to center plans around him, and as long as he's consuming close to a quarter of the payroll there's really no other choice.

As the Twins ponder whether to take a long-term approach in putting a competitive product back on the field, what they need to ask themselves is whether biding their time and stocking the farm is worth wasting the best years of Mauer's career.


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