• Position Analyis: First Base

    Likely Starter: Justin Morneau
    2012 Stats: .267/.333/.440, 19 HR, 77 RBI, 63 R

    Potential Backups: Chris Parmelee, Joe Mauer, Jeff Clement


    It’s been so long since we’ve seen Justin Morneau at his best, it’s easy to forget what “his best” even looked like. In the two-and-a-half seasons since his fateful concussion in Toronto, Morneau has shown only the occasion glimpse of elite hitting ability. Beyond the lingering effects of the head injury, which dragged on for well over a year and often prevented him from being able to work out at full capacity, Morneau has dealt with a barrage of dings, nicks and strains to nearly every other part of his body. It's like his voodoo doll fell in a blender.

    For such a sturdily built athlete, the first baseman has had a shockingly difficult time staying healthy. He was definition of durability in 2008, when he played in all 163 of Minnesota’s games, but since then he’s missed at least 27 games every season. Just when it seems like he’s gotten past another major ailment, something else invariably pops up to take a treacherous toll on his performance or sideline him.

    That’s why it’s understandable if you're dubious of Morneau right now, despite the fact that he is – by all accounts – as healthy as he’s been in years, and absolutely crushing the ball this spring.

    One year ago, Morneau was openly pondering the idea of retirement, feeling as though his nagging head and wrist issues may never disappear. Now, he's fresh off a brief but dominant stint with Canada in the World Baseball Classic and his decision to participate in the tourney was significant.

    Entering the final leg of his current contract, this is a hugely important season for Morneau's future; his health and production over the course of the coming campaign will dictate whether he lands a one-year make good or a sizable multi-year deal afterward. That he was willing to forgo the controlled pace in Ft. Myers and compete in a pressure-packed preseason environment signals a high level of confidence in the state of his 31-year-old body.

    Everything he’s done on the field over the past month has helped to legitimize that confidence. In a handful of games played with the Twins, Morneau was locked in, smashing hard liners to all fields and knocking in runs. In 20 at-bats, he tallied three doubles, a homer and eight RBI, bringing back memories of his heyday from 2006 through 2009 when his total of 470 RBI ranked him fourth in baseball, behind only Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez.

    While batting cleanup for the Canadians in the WBC, he continued to rake, collecting seven hits (three doubles) in 11 at-bats for a cool .636 batting average.

    Put all the pieces together, and you've got a healthy, confident former MVP who's playing for a contract. If the guy takes you by surprise this year, you haven't been paying attention.

    Of course, to come full circle, it would not be a surprise if health again became a problem for the battered slugger. Nor would it be a surprise if he were traded at some point during the summer. Therefore, depth here is important.

    Chris Parmelee, who will open the season in the outfield, looms as the heir apparent, if all goes to plan. He's in line to replace the veteran at first next year and circumstances could hasten that process, although Parmelee will need to hit.

    Jeff Clement, the former premier prospect turned 29-year-old flameout, could eventually become an option. Chris Colabello, a fellow minor-leaguer journeyman who's had a pretty nice WBC himself, is a long-shot contender.

    But, as is usually the case, Minnesota's system is short on outstanding first base prospects. They're counting on a big year from Morneau, who could become an appealing trade chip while also helping keep the Twins relevant.

    But, as the future of the position is concerned, they're counting on a big year from Parmelee even more.
    This article was originally published in blog: Position Analyis: First Base started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 86 Comments
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by birdwatcher View Post
      Statistics don't tell us much about the probability of Morneau having a good year, but the eye test does. He looks completely different than he did last spring.

      Making him a qualifying offer of roughly $13M is intriguing. The risk is minimal for the Twins. Maybe he says yes and then gives you only $5M of value. Or he walks and fetches you a high draft choice. It puts the Twins in a good position: if they don't get overwhelmed by a trade deadline offer for either Parmelee or Morneau, they can sit tight.
      Except the trending imperative since 2010 has been to let pending FAs walk or trade for little in return (Liriano) and cut payroll. As intriguing as it might be, I doubt playing QO poker with Morneau is a game that Ryan is willing/able to participate in.
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      I would take the qualifying offer risk, depending on how well he does during the season. We also will get a better idea of Parmelee after this year. So the Twins can afford NOT to deal Morneau and still retain him (or get a draft pick if he refuses). Or they can trade him. I think Morneau does have value as a long-term DH who can also play first, it just depends on the overall price. But a $13-15 million paycheck in 2014 is something the Twins could afford. Then we look at Morneau/Willingham/Doumit ALL coming off the books at that season's end.

      The thought that the Twins will be able to resign Morneau to a long-term siginificantly less contract is probably nill, seeing what happened to lowballing Nathan, Cuddyer, Baker and even Kubel. Its a crapshoot for a player, but you have to look at what a team competitiveness is in the near future (yes, Cuddyer blew his choice).
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      Except the trending imperative since 2010 has been to let pending FAs walk or trade for little in return (Liriano) and cut payroll. As intriguing as it might be, I doubt playing QO poker with Morneau is a game that Ryan is willing/able to participate in.

      We complain about getting little in return for Liriano. We got something., The White Sox got nothing. We could've kept him and had him walk. Who knows if Escobar will be the 3-4 year utility guy who has one great year as a fill-in when a middle infielder goes down. Hernandez may develop into a 5th starter or a good long man shades of Duensing. But we got two players for a guy who was not going to resign with the Twins for THEIR price.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      It can't be based on last season because he definitely wasn't "dominant". Therefore, I guess in this instance, "domiant" is 11 ABs in the WBC and 23 in Spring Training. Who knew?
      First, I omitted an "if" in there, so that's my bad.

      Second, are you two not aware of his numbers in July and August of last year? His OPS was .850 and he was finally starting to hit lefties even minimally at that time. He has had a "regular" offseason again, etc. etc.

      So stop.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Brooks View Post
      I'd say the risk is that you pay him $13 million and then he gets another concussion and gives you zero production.
      I'd move him for any halfway decent prospect they can at the deadline.
      There's a risk with any player that he'll get hurt and give you no production for the cost. Could happen with Mauer. Basically has happened with Mauer.

      But with Morneau, it'd be a one-year deal and they're going to have loads to payroll flexibility next year, so it doesn't seem like a terrible risk to me, even if you have to overpay a bit. Especially if he's coming off a big season.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      I would offer it to him, but depending on that whole Napoli-Ortiz situation, I would be willing to bet that the Red Sox would throw some years at him. Victorino+ money.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      I think he hits well and gets traded for something nice. The real question is whether the Twins try to bring him back. I certainly would if he's past his issues, but I'm a fan and Morneau is my favorite player.
    1. Mr. Brooks's Avatar
      Mr. Brooks -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      First, I omitted an "if" in there, so that's my bad.

      Second, are you two not aware of his numbers in July and August of last year? His OPS was .850 and he was finally starting to hit lefties even minimally at that time. He has had a "regular" offseason again, etc. etc.

      So stop.
      I'm not a big fan of picking out 2 months of a full season. Every player in baseball has months where they hit well above their final OPS, as well as months they hit well below it.
      There is a reason that baseball uses such a long season, its a "fluky" enough game that it takes a large sample size to even out.
      If it were a consistent trend where it gradually improved each month from April through September, then I could consider that he was shaking off the rust, but it wasnt.
      He was terrible in April, then hit the cover off the ball in May, then terrible again in June, then pretty good in July and August, then terrible again in Sept., or basically the same type of monthly splits that I would predict you'd find from any other league average first baseman last year.

      That said, I do think he's going to have a better year this year. I think confidence goes a long way in baseball, and I'm sure he's more confident than he was this time of year. But, its based on gut feeling and not something I think you can cherry pick random splits from last year to predict.
    1. Mr. Brooks's Avatar
      Mr. Brooks -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      There's a risk with any player that he'll get hurt and give you no production for the cost. Could happen with Mauer. Basically has happened with Mauer.

      But with Morneau, it'd be a one-year deal and they're going to have loads to payroll flexibility next year, so it doesn't seem like a terrible risk to me, even if you have to overpay a bit. Especially if he's coming off a big season.
      That's a false equivalence. Certain players carry MORE risk than other players.
      Sure any player could get a concussion at any time, but a guy with half a dozen (at least) already is much more risky than a guy who hasnt had any.

      I just dont see Morneau as part of the long term of this team. In that case, why even bother with the risk? The only way he's worth the $14 million qualifying offer is if he's having a great year, and if that is the case, then we shouldnt have any problem getting a decent prospect at the deadline.
      Parmalee can move to 1st, and Arcia gets called up to play RF.
    1. Cris E's Avatar
      Cris E -
      The money is irrelevant in the next couple seasons. They've got most of the guys they want for the coming four or five years and they won't cost anything. Staggering the arb, as discussed above, makes very good sense because it's so easy to do and simplifies life down the road. Guys that are progressing nicely in Roch or NB can stay there, guys that have nothing at all to prove can come up, and anyone not ready can stay out of the discussion. There really isn't much to play for this year and probably even next, so Ryan will use the calendar.

      Morneau gets an offer from MN if he's here, period. If he's playing well it'll be a two or three year deal, and if he isn't it'll be a qualifying offer. But the real decision point is earlier: if he's playing average or below by July they'll dump him at the deadline just to free the roster spot for another kid (and avoid the discussion in the off-season.)

      One other thing: upstream discussions about his age make zero sense for a 32 year old first baseman. If you want to discuss risk talk about his concussions, but 32 is still prime for most positions these days, and doubly so at the corners.
    1. Mr. Brooks's Avatar
      Mr. Brooks -
      Quote Originally Posted by Cris E View Post
      The money is irrelevant in the next couple seasons. They've got most of the guys they want for the coming four or five years and they won't cost anything. Staggering the arb, as discussed above, makes very good sense because it's so easy to do and simplifies life down the road. Guys that are progressing nicely in Roch or NB can stay there, guys that have nothing at all to prove can come up, and anyone not ready can stay out of the discussion. There really isn't much to play for this year and probably even next, so Ryan will use the calendar.

      Morneau gets an offer from MN if he's here, period. If he's playing well it'll be a two or three year deal, and if he isn't it'll be a qualifying offer. But the real decision point is earlier: if he's playing average or below by July they'll dump him at the deadline just to free the roster spot for another kid (and avoid the discussion in the off-season.)

      One other thing: upstream discussions about his age make zero sense for a 32 year old first baseman. If you want to discuss risk talk about his concussions, but 32 is still prime for most positions these days, and doubly so at the corners.
      Why would they offer him $14 million dollars if he's not playing well?
      Out of all the possible scenarios discussed in this thread I think that one would probably be the worst.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      One article on prime ages refutes your belief of 32:
      Baseball Prospectus | How Do Baseball Players Age?
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Brooks View Post
      I'm not a big fan of picking out 2 months of a full season. Every player in baseball has months where they hit well above their final OPS, as well as months they hit well below it.
      There is a reason that baseball uses such a long season, its a "fluky" enough game that it takes a large sample size to even out.
      If it were a consistent trend where it gradually improved each month from April through September, then I could consider that he was shaking off the rust, but it wasnt.
      He was terrible in April, then hit the cover off the ball in May, then terrible again in June, then pretty good in July and August, then terrible again in Sept., or basically the same type of monthly splits that I would predict you'd find from any other league average first baseman last year.

      That said, I do think he's going to have a better year this year. I think confidence goes a long way in baseball, and I'm sure he's more confident than he was this time of year. But, its based on gut feeling and not something I think you can cherry pick random splits from last year to predict.
      But this isn't a normal player. This was someone who on opening day was doubting if he was capable of playing with his injuries. The entire offseason last year was cloudy for him. Pre-injury he was having a ridiculous 2010. He showed signs of a return while still dealing with injuries in the second half of the season (including, most importantly, September). I am not sure what is really to dispute here.
    1. Mr. Brooks's Avatar
      Mr. Brooks -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      But this isn't a normal player. This was someone who on opening day was doubting if he was capable of playing with his injuries. The entire offseason last year was cloudy for him. Pre-injury he was having a ridiculous 2010. He showed signs of a return while still dealing with injuries in the second half of the season (including, most importantly, September). I am not sure what is really to dispute here.
      The statement, "Justin Morneau is back to being a dominant hitter" is not something that can be disputed?
      Well I guess that settles that.

      BTW: Morneau was terrible in September, he could not have been worse.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Brooks View Post
      The statement, "Justin Morneau is back to being a dominant hitter" is not something that can be disputed?
      Well I guess that settles that.

      BTW: Morneau was terrible in September, he could not have been worse.
      First, AGAIN, I already said that I omitted an "if" right before that . But second, what isn't to be disputed is that you cannot make some general claim about ballplayers having hot streaks when this particular circumstance involves a series of injuries and in particular a bizarre one relating to concussions. The farther removed from that, the better the outcome. I believe he was injured again in September. Maybe I am wrong about that (you know, "day-to-day" nonsense from the Twins).
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      For the record, I expect a minimum of .850 OPS from him this year if he remains healthy.
    1. Mr. Brooks's Avatar
      Mr. Brooks -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      First, AGAIN, I already said that I omitted an "if" right before that . But second, what isn't to be disputed is that you cannot make some general claim about ballplayers having hot streaks when this particular circumstance involves a series of injuries and in particular a bizarre one relating to concussions. The farther removed from that, the better the outcome. I believe he was injured again in September. Maybe I am wrong about that (you know, "day-to-day" nonsense from the Twins).
      Just like I cant say for certain that its just randomness over a long season, you also cant say for sure that its absolutely a trend that shows he was improving and will therefore continue.
      Either one would be absurd. Thats kinda what I was getting at originally.
    1. Mr. Brooks's Avatar
      Mr. Brooks -
      One reason I tend to believe it was just randomness and not some trend, is that his babip was 40 points above his career norm over those 2 months. It was not his slugging that improved in those 2 months, it was his AVG and OBP. If you regress his babip to his career norm then those 2 months suddenly look just like the rest.
    1. Mr. Brooks's Avatar
      Mr. Brooks -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      For the record, I expect a minimum of .850 OPS from him this year if he remains healthy.
      I suppose if you are going to go on record I will too.
      I'm seeing an OPS in the .795 to .810 range this year from Justin.
    1. Cris E's Avatar
      Cris E -
      If 32 isn't prime, it's within a year. (And it's improving. This article has a nice graph of how much better players are aging these days: Baseball Prospectus | Resident Fantasy Genius: The Age-27 Breakout Fallacy )

      My larger point was that as a guy turning 32, he's not at the edge of a cliff. The folks talking about him like he's Olde And Finishede are off-base. The significant drift starts at 33-34, but as a 1b Morneau draws little value from his defense so he'll be useful as long as he hits. If he can prove in 2013 that he can still hit then he'll probably be able to at 33 as well...

      ...barring injury.

      And that recalls my other point: if you're going to discount his value it has to be based on his injuries, and specifically his head. There are dozens of guys over 32 years old who are easily justifying their $13m+ contracts. If you don't believe in him that's perfectly understandable, but for a 2-3 year deal age is not a factor.
©2014 TwinsCentric, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Interested in advertising with Twins Daily? Click here.