• 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. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by glunn View Post
      I like Shane's analysis of this, but wonder if Willingham, Doumit and Parmelee would fetch a decent SS, 3B and SP. I also worry about trading these three players and taking the risk that Morneau gets injured again.

      I am hoping that Morneau gets back to his MVP form. If the Twins are sellers at the trade deadline, I would think that a healthy Morneau might fetch a lot better prospect(s) than the other three combined. And if the Twins are anywhere near contending at the trade deadline, it seems to me that Morneau (and Willingham) should be virtually untouchable -- these are proven players who (along with Mauer) could carry the Twins to the wild card or better.
      I am messing up all over this thread. I didn't mean that the three of them would bring back three legit prospects. By some combo I basically meant that the three might bring back two such prospects. I don't see Morneau alone bringing back more than one. Maybe that one has a higher ceiling than any one player to be had for the other three, true. At the deadline, though, both Willingham and Doumit are likely to be quite appealing for playoff teams looking to fill out their rosters with viable hitters (think Texas, NY, Boston, LAA, Atlanta, and maybe St. Louis here). It could even mean a teams "fifth starter" like Worley.
    1. Mr. Brooks's Avatar
      Mr. Brooks -
      Best case scenario for me is Morneau gets off to a great start, Mark Texeira and AROD both have setbacks, and the Yankees call offering Angelo Gumbs and Mark Montgomery.
    1. Monkeypaws's Avatar
      Monkeypaws -
      I stick my neck out there and say the former MVP is back in the fold.

      Sounds like he'd like to stay here too.

      The Twins should make him a lifer.
    1. twinsnorth49's Avatar
      twinsnorth49 -
      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.

      Another concussion expert, where do they all come from?
    1. twinsnorth49's Avatar
      twinsnorth49 -
      Where is the convincing arguement that Morneau can't revert to his old form, or close to it? Don't tell me it's because of this alleged fog in his head?

      Based on the guy's career track record and age, betting against him being an elite hitter again is fools gold. I'm with Shane, he OPS's north of .850, book it.
    1. Mr. Brooks's Avatar
      Mr. Brooks -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsnorth49 View Post
      Another concussion expert, where do they all come from?
      How am I claiming to be some sort of "concussion expert"?
    1. Mr. Brooks's Avatar
      Mr. Brooks -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsnorth49 View Post
      Where is the convincing arguement that Morneau can't revert to his old form, or close to it? Don't tell me it's because of this alleged fog in his head?

      Based on the guy's career track record and age, betting against him being an elite hitter again is fools gold. I'm with Shane, he OPS's north of .850, book it.
      I'm certainly not claiming he can't. Of course he can.
      I'm just saying its too soon to claim with absolute certainty that he already has. I think we need to see it first.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      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.
      You refute one small sample size argument used against your point by citing yet another? I know that doesn't work in your college classes, professor. Or if it does, no wonder you try to cease the debate by yelling "stop".
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      To make clear, I'm not a Morneau hater. If he comes back to his old form, nothing would please me more. The reality is, the direction the team is headed towards is getting a lot younger with legit, minimum-wage, cost-controlled prospects champing at the bit at Morneau's 2 potential positions. The evidence is overwhelming that this is coupled with a return to an overall lean, mean payroll- ie, Smith was out when he actually thought ownership meant it about an open checkbook- Ryan was brought back to shed salary, find cheaper, reliable replacements in the process and keep a positive cash flow until the next up-cycle. It's highly unlikely, no matter how well Justin performs, that Morneau is considered to be part of the pending up-cycle, unless he willingly takes Ryan's lowball offer.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      You refute one small sample size argument used against your point by citing yet another? I know that doesn't work in your college classes, professor. Or if it does, no wonder you try to cease the debate by yelling "stop".
      I say stop because I don't think you are taking in the relevant particular situation that Morneau is in with his health. Last year was bound to start out problematic for him, but he did pick up a lot of steam and this offseason was "normal" for him. There's just zero reason to think that a healthy Morneau isn't going to be somewhat like the pre-2010 Morneau. He's older, so there will be some decline.

      It's not as though I am the only one who has pointed to Morneau's second half of the season as a significant improvement.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      I say stop because I don't think you are taking in the relevant particular situation that Morneau is in with his health. Last year was bound to start out problematic for him, but he did pick up a lot of steam and this offseason was "normal" for him. There's just zero reason to think that a healthy Morneau isn't going to be somewhat like the pre-2010 Morneau. He's older, so there will be some decline.

      It's not as though I am the only one who has pointed to Morneau's second half of the season as a significant improvement.
      I think I understand that Morneau has made significant strides to a return towards being as fully recovered from his last concussion as he can be. I'm still not certain that the average fan appreciates his long ordeal enough. He did look better in the 2nd half last year, the first half had people howling to make a part-time platoon player out of a $14M investment. He had 2 months where he resembled the Justin of old and 4 months where he just looked rusty- and just old. And that's my point, the Twins are likely to move on, via midseason trade (although Ryan hasn't proved he can make a deadline "sellers" deal that would actually help the club long-term, should be interesting what kind of offer would motivate him to pull the trigger)- or refusing to make a QO, whichever way his season shakes out- great or pedestrian- and go with someone younger and cheaper, unless he's willing to take a salary cut. I think Morneau thinks he still has the juice left in the tank for one more decent contract- he recently mentioned the Blue Jays as his desired location- perhaps at a "Canadian-Born Discount"?
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      Trading Morneau even at the deadline still only makes sense if there is actually something decent coming back. The Twins have enough PR problems with fans (losing and cutting payroll) to just dump him. And I think the return would be underwhelming for Morneau.

      I'm not really against offering Morneau a tender at about 14M. There's payroll room and he's a fan favorite. At that point Morneau would be trapped since it's very unlikely that a team would give up a 1st rd pick and sign him to a multiyear deal.

      Parmelee has nearly zero trade value after his long and mediocre MiLB career.

      Doumit doesn't have much trade value but that could change. If there's a good offer out there then it makes sense to trade him.

      Willingham currently has fairly good trade value and he would be my top priority to trade this summer.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by kab21 View Post
      I'm not really against offering Morneau a tender at about 14M. There's payroll room and he's a fan favorite. At that point Morneau would be trapped since it's very unlikely that a team would give up a 1st rd pick and sign him to a multiyear deal.
      I'm not so sure. If Morneau demonstrates this year that he's returned to form, I think he'd be pretty highly coveted as a free agent. A lot of teams would love to add an elite slugger and proven run producer with his track record. I don't know if his age will be that great a deterrent; look at the deal Swisher just got.
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      The best case is Morneau returns to form and gives the Twins options. They can afford to make the qualifying offer or deal him in the summer.

      If his hitting is similar to last year, the Twins won't have options. The best case would be to trade him to a cash strapped contender, pick up his salary and buy a prospect.

      Most teams will view Doumit as a DH/PH. I don't think there will be much trade value. They couldn't get anything for Thome a few years ago with an OPS+ of 126. Doumit's bat will likely be below that level.

      Parmelee is under team control for several years. If he plays well and has trade value, it will better to retain control and keep him. If he doesn't have trade value...

      Willingham also is a defensive liability and difficult to trade unless he can match his OPS+ of 144 (significantly higher than any other season in his career). If he returns to his career rate of 125, he won't bring back much in trade. If his history of injury trouble returns...

      Thinking that the Twins can get back significant prospects in return is as realistic as thinking Liriano was worth a top 100 prospect.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      I'm not so sure. If Morneau demonstrates this year that he's returned to form, I think he'd be pretty highly coveted as a free agent. A lot of teams would love to add an elite slugger and proven run producer with his track record. I don't know if his age will be that great a deterrent; look at the deal Swisher just got.
      Swisher has played 148+ games every season w/o any down years (the CHW year was a little iffy) and can play 1B and OF. Morneau carries too much injury risk imo to get a long contract. He also has to get rid of the can't hit lefties tag that he developed last season.

      It's possible that he puts up a .900 OPS and does gain some interest as a FA but I'm not even that optimistic about him.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      I don't get the angst over Morneau. He was an MVP calliber hitter before that injury. No one is saying his 2006-2010 seasons were flukes. It was clear he was not the same in 2011 with injury after injury and returning from that concussion, and it's undisputed that he was still not the same at the start of 2012. Unlike 2011 and 2012, Morneau looks good this spring. He's hitting well and he's no longer scared. I don't get what people are worried about. He's going to post an OPS around .900, and baring any other injury (and an absolute flop by Arcia, Parmalee, and Benson), he'll be traded at the deadline. The question as I see it is whether the Twins will try to bring him back. I personally would, as they will still need help at DH as the next wave arrives. Having Morneau and Parmalee rotate between 1st and DH makes a ton of sense.
    1. Mr. Brooks's Avatar
      Mr. Brooks -
      Quote Originally Posted by diehardtwinsfan View Post
      I don't get the angst over Morneau. He was an MVP calliber hitter before that injury. No one is saying his 2006-2010 seasons were flukes. It was clear he was not the same in 2011 with injury after injury and returning from that concussion, and it's undisputed that he was still not the same at the start of 2012. Unlike 2011 and 2012, Morneau looks good this spring. He's hitting well and he's no longer scared. I don't get what people are worried about. He's going to post an OPS around .900, and baring any other injury (and an absolute flop by Arcia, Parmalee, and Benson), he'll be traded at the deadline. The question as I see it is whether the Twins will try to bring him back. I personally would, as they will still need help at DH as the next wave arrives. Having Morneau and Parmalee rotate between 1st and DH makes a ton of sense.
      The angst is because head injuries are different than most injuires.
      They are unpredictable and even in this modern age of medicine, neurological experts still dont know everything about the brain.
      Its not like a broken foot where you put it in a cast and x amount of weeks later its like it never happened.
      It's silly to declare that Morneau is for a fact going to OPS .900, as if its some sort of undisputed fact and not opinion. Especially considering he's only OPS'd .900 once in his career (in a season in which he accumulated enough PA's to qualify), and that was his MVP season.
      Nobody is saying he cant do it. Of course he could do it, but those people also are not declaring that they know for a fact he won't.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Brooks View Post
      The angst is because head injuries are different than most injuires.
      They are unpredictable and even in this modern age of medicine, neurological experts still dont know everything about the brain.
      Its not like a broken foot where you put it in a cast and x amount of weeks later its like it never happened.
      It's silly to declare that Morneau is for a fact going to OPS .900, as if its some sort of undisputed fact and not opinion. Especially considering he's only OPS'd .900 once in his career (in a season in which he accumulated enough PA's to qualify), and that was his MVP season.
      Nobody is saying he cant do it. Of course he could do it, but those people also are not declaring that they know for a fact he won't.
      A lot of people posting these days who turned in their objectivity at the door when ST opened up and have their Twins Wish-O-Meter set at "Eleventy" ever since:

      "Gibson is our Ace and it would be a travesty to send him back down to AAA!"/
      "After his breakout season last year, let's just put Arcia in RF now!"/
      "Looking at his ST BA, it's a given that Rosario is our best Second Baseman and will be called up in July!"/
      "I was all for trading Morneau, but he is fully recovered from his injuries and is dominant again!"/
    1. birdwatcher's Avatar
      birdwatcher -
      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.
      True, he could get a concussion without playing a single game after accepting a QO. I'd still be inclined to take the risk if he stayed healthy and productive throughout 2013. I mean, EVERY player poses a season-ending injury risk.
    1. Mr. Brooks's Avatar
      Mr. Brooks -
      Quote Originally Posted by birdwatcher View Post
      True, he could get a concussion without playing a single game after accepting a QO. I'd still be inclined to take the risk if he stayed healthy and productive throughout 2013. I mean, EVERY player poses a season-ending injury risk.
      You dont think some players posses greater risk than others?
      And he wouldnt have to suffer the injury before playing a single game to give you zero production, he'd just have to be producing at replacement level or below at the time.
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