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Twins set to rebuild for 2010

Torii Hunter is already gone and Johan Santana is sure to follow. Joe Nathan might be next. Cue the sound of crickets chirping. It might be all you hear in the Metrodome next summer. The Minnesota Twins, the one reason to pay attention to the Gop...

Torii Hunter is already gone and Johan Santana is sure to follow. Joe Nathan might be next.

Cue the sound of crickets chirping.

It might be all you hear in the Metrodome next summer.

The Minnesota Twins, the one reason to pay attention to the Gopher State's big-time sports teams the past several years, have turned the wobbly corner toward irrelevancy for 2008.

What's next, naming Kevin McHale general manager and Tim Brewster manager?

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And, no, trading pitcher Matt Garza for young outfielder Delmon Young - a deal that was rumored Wednesday - doesn't stop the slide.

To recap: Hunter, the popular center fielder and consistent producer, went to the Los Angeles Angels for $90 million; Santana, the all-world pitcher, is entering the final year of his contract and the Twins will not pay the $150 million ransom it will take to keep him, so they are shopping Mr. Cy Young on the trade market; and Nathan, the excellent closer, might be trade bait, too, because of his impending free agency.

Merry Christmas, Twins fans! Your present is Young, a supremely talented 22-year-old outfielder who as a minor-leaguer threw a bat at an umpire.

The Twins are loathe to say it out loud, but the franchise has entered full rebuilding mode. A playoff contender since 2002, the Twins' actions have revealed that era is over and they'll be restocking with younger and cheaper players. The idea, one would hope, is to become competitive enough to be interesting by the time Minnesota's new stadium opens in 2010.

The good news: The Twins still have Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer and (presumably) Francisco Liriano to build around. And Young, acquired from the Tampa Rays, is considered one of the best young (22 years old) hitters in baseball.

The bad news: Unless some immediate needs are taken care of in the Santana and Nathan trades, the Twins will have more holes than Bonnie and Clyde. Third base, center field, starting pitching, closer, bat boy, bullpen catcher and left-field beer vendor, to name just a few.

It will be difficult. It will not, however, be 1999. It will not be 97 losses and a bottomless pit. There will be no Chad Allen or Marty Cordova sightings.

That's an important distinction. With the pieces they already have and the pieces they will presumably acquire by moving Santana and Nathan, the Twins at least have a foundation around which to build. Morneau and Mauer represent hope, which is more than the Twins of the late 1990s offered.

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The Twins will not contend for the playoffs in 2008. You simply don't lose Santana, the best starting pitcher in the game, and somehow get better. Hunter and Nathan are lesser losses, but the theory holds. The Twins, 79-83 last season, are going backward in the talent department.

History says it will be temporary, unlike the inconsequential fog that envelopes professional basketball or major-college football in the Twin Cities.

That won't make 2008 any easier for baseball observers who've come to expect competence and competitiveness from the Twins.

Forum sports columnist Mike McFeely can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 10 a.m. to noon on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or mmcfeely@forumcomm.com . McFeely's blog can be found at www.areavoices.com Twins set to rebuild for 2010 Mike McFeely 20071129

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