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  • Top 10 Stories For 2013: #2 Whither Justin?

    “Look at every path closely and deliberately, then ask ourselves this crucial question: Does this path have a heart? If it does, then the path is good. If it doesn't, it is of no use.”
    - Carlos Castenada

    It was seven years ago – in 2006 – that Justin Morneau won his American League Most Valuable Player award. That year Brad Radke was still pitching. Johan Santana was still a Minnesota Twin. All that existed of Target Field was the funding. And Justin Morneau was just 25 years old.

    This year, he’ll turn 32. And his six-year contract with the Twins, which was signed a year after he won the MVP, will end. The question is whether that will also be the end of his Twins career.

    ~~~

    This is a story from a free ebook that TwinsDaily is publishing on Opening Day that previews the Minnesota Twins 2013 season. To get your free copy, just make sure you follow @TwinsDaily on Twitter or Like our Facebook page.

    ~~~



    Morneau followed that 2006 season with three-and-a-half productive seasons, never giving anyone cause to doubt that he would finish his career as one of the top Twins of all time. But midway through 2010, which was shaping up to be the best season he had ever had, he slid into second base and his head hit John McDonald’s knee. It gave him a concussion, ended his season and ruined huge stretches of two more.

    By most observations, that seems to be behind him now, as do the nagging injuries and rust that the hiatus also brought. Morneau is in a position to have a healthy, productive season. Whether he will or not is one question. The second is what the Twins will do if he does.

    Worst Case Scenario
    We’ve seen the worst case scenario. It’s the second half of 2010. And 2011. And the first half of 2012. The worst case scenario is that Morneau is hurt – a wrist injury or a back injury or a case of hypothermia from returning to Canada sometime before June. But worst of all would be another serious concussion, which might end his career.

    Best Case Scenario
    The tougher question is “What is the best case scenario?” Obviously it involves Morneau rediscovering his boom-boom stick (as Bat Girl used to call it). But then what? Your answer may depend on whether you want to follow your head or your heart.

    Your head is going to ask whether it makes sense for the Twins to invest in a 32-year-old with a recent injury history that would give even the Canadian health care system pause. This is a team that is actively rebuilding, who has several high-upside prospects approaching the majors, and some of them have their own boom-boom sticks. Is it time for Morneau to make room, just like it was time for Doug Mientkiewicz to make room for him?

    But your heart wants to know why we would cut bait on a player who could still end up as one of the best Twins of all time. Morneau has a decent chance this year of moving up to fourth all-time on the Twins home run list, and third place (Bob Allison) and second place (Kent Hrbek) are within reach before his career is over. Morneau can serve as a bridge from one generation of the Twins to the next, just like Brad Radke did for the last generation. Plus, he lives here. He married here. Can’t we, as Minnesota Twins fans, EVER have nice things?

    Signs To Look For
    Obviously, a lot depends on Morneau. He needs to stay healthy. He needs to be productive. It would be best if he could hit left-handers again like he seemed to over the second half of last season. But he’s not the whole equation.

    Playing about 50 yards behind Morneau on the diamond is “right-fielder” Chris Parmelee. Like Morneau in 2006, Parmelee is 25 years old. Like Morneau, he’s a left-handed hitter. Last year as a 24-year-old, he slugged 17 home runs in just 228 AB in AAA-Rochester, or one every 13+ at-bats. (Morneau slugged 22 in 288 AB – or one every 13 AB – as a 23-year-old.) Finally, Parmelee’s best position, where he started all 62 games in Rochester, is first base. It’s probably fair to suggest that if Parmelee hits well, it would make losing Morneau easier on the Twins front office.

    There is also the Toronto Blue Jays. They’ve coveted Morneau both for his performance and Canadian ties for years. And despite their other expensive roster additions, their designated hitter is still Adam Lind, who hasn’t cleared a 734 OPS since 2009. If they find themselves in the middle of contention and with a black hole in their lineup, why not pay the freight on Morneau?

    But will the Twins listen? It might depend on whether they want to trust their head or their heart.

    You'll get to kick off Opening Day with your free @TwinsDaily Minnesota Twins 2013 Season Preview Ebook. Just add us to your Twitter feed by following us, or tell us you like us (we're pathetic like that). We'll publish a link to the free ebook on Opening Day on both sites.
    This article was originally published in blog: Top 10 Stories For 2013: #2 Whither Morneau? started by John Bonnes
    Comments 35 Comments
    1. Oldgoat_MN's Avatar
      Oldgoat_MN -
      It's not all about heart. Morneau at his best is an incredibly difficult player to replace.
      Not just his hitting, but he plays a 1B that might merit Gold Glove consideration if he played in New York.
      I get that if Parmelee rakes then it might be wise to move him to make room for Arcia.
      Still, this is an extraordinary player we are talking about.
      Let's not jump the gun.
    1. pajavorski's Avatar
      pajavorski -
      I have fond memories of Morneau, but if he has a good first half he will probably be more valuable to the twins as trade bait than a veteran cornerstone for contention in 2014/2015. Some may argue how much value he has considering his contract but wouldn't it make sense for a contender who needs a bat to give up a Decent B+ prospect if the Twins included some Money? Mauer will be the expensive old man for the next twins contender lets just hope he isnt a light hitting DH by then!
    1. Oldgoat_MN's Avatar
      Oldgoat_MN -
      Oh, yeah. And thank you John, for another thoughtful topic for us to argue about.
    1. Old Twins Cap's Avatar
      Old Twins Cap -
      I think the thing to keep an eye on, microscopically enough, is how Morneau handles low pitches. I had season tickets in 2010 down the right field line, and what struck me, as Morneau was racking up some serious numbers despite hitting a lot of drives that fell short of the fences in Target Field, was how he could go down and get his bat under low pitches.

      We know how Morneau has a kind of buggy-whip swing, he sees a ball, his eyes get all big and he wants to hit the damn thing, but the key is to flex at the knees, get down low and use that leverage to lift a low pitch and drive it somewhere. You gotta understand: every pitching coach and every catcher is telling every pitcher in the league to keep the ball down against Justin.

      So, to me, the real tell-tale sign is: does he flex at the knees and is he able to drive the low pitch, whether to left or center, and if inside, to drill it to right. If he is, that means he's all the way back. If he hits a lot of ground balls, or flails at low pitches, then it's likely that he's lost something essential. At that point, I say, trade him and take a chance on Parmelee. At least Parmelee seems more than willing to lay off the low pitches and see if he gets called out on them or not.
    1. glunn's Avatar
      glunn -
      I think that there is a good chance that Morneau will still be a cornerstone type player for at least two or three more years. I would hate to see him traded unless the Twins get a very high ceiling prospect in return.
    1. tjsyam921's Avatar
      tjsyam921 -
      I think if Parmelee hits they should trade Morneau. I just hope they don't give him another big contract if he does have a big year this year seeing it's a contract year.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      I don't think that Parmelee would have anything to do on whether they trade Morneau at all. At best he would keep the first bag warm for Vargas or Sano. Now if the Twins were to keep Morneau for a couple more years to bridge the gap to those instead of Parmelee, I would have no issues with it; on the other hand, I can see a Mauer/Parmelee/someone else split at first base working fine as a place holder as well and be about $10-13 mil a season less expensive.
    1. Mr. Brooks's Avatar
      Mr. Brooks -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      I don't think that Parmelee would have anything to do on whether they trade Morneau at all. At best he would keep the first bag warm for Vargas or Sano. Now if the Twins were to keep Morneau for a couple more years to bridge the gap to those instead of Parmelee, I would have no issues with it; on the other hand, I can see a Mauer/Parmelee/someone else split at first base working fine as a place holder as well and be about $10-13 mil a season less expensive.
      I've heard Vargas name mentioned a couple of times on this site. I don't think anyone is keeping anything warm for Vargas. He's a fringe prospect at best. I've never seen him on any top 10 Twins prospects list, and rarely even seen him in a top 20 list. He's more like a 25 to 30 range.
      Not saying those guys will never make it, but its an extreme long shot, and for sure they shouldnt be counted on.

      As for Sano, I'm finding myself moving into the camp that thinks they should just move him to 1B and get it over with.
      I keep hearing that his bat is seriously close to MLB ready, like later this year, or opening day 2014. I say, just make the move and get him up here if his bat really is that close.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by glunn View Post
      I think that there is a good chance that Morneau will still be a cornerstone type player for at least two or three more years. I would hate to see him traded unless the Twins get a very high ceiling prospect in return.
      Which they won't. Two month rentals of first basemen do not pull down elite prospects. They might be able to get a moderate upside guy who is very raw but they won't get more than that for Justin (unless he's posting a 1.000 OPS or something silly like that).

      Still, it'd be better than nothing, I suppose.
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Brooks View Post
      As for Sano, I'm finding myself moving into the camp that thinks they should just move him to 1B and get it over with.
      I think Sano's going to be fine at 3B while he's young. He looked ten-fold better at 3B this Spring Training than last, and believe it or not, he's abnormally athletic for his size, which helps him in that regard.

      And I think 1B would be a vast waste of what he can do defensively, so I'd keep him there until he's the worst defender at the position in all of baseball (if such a thing might happen), then I'd try him in RF before ever sending him toward 1B.
    1. Winston Smith's Avatar
      Winston Smith -
      John, Carlos goes back a long ways you must be old.



      "The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.”
      Carlos Castaneda

      No the trick as Twins fans is we can make ourselves both miserable and happy at the same time!

      On Morneau does anyone really think Ryan would give him (at 33 yrs old) a multi year 10+m contract if he has a good year?
    1. jmlease1's Avatar
      jmlease1 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Which they won't. Two month rentals of first basemen do not pull down elite prospects. They might be able to get a moderate upside guy who is very raw but they won't get more than that for Justin (unless he's posting a 1.000 OPS or something silly like that).

      Still, it'd be better than nothing, I suppose.
      Brock speaketh the truth. Morneau just won't have much trade value, even if he's ripping the cover off the ball because of his expiring contract and injury history.

      It's a really hard decision on Morneau. I think if he finishes the year healthy and hits he'll rate a multi-year deal from someone, so at a minimum if he's not dealt the Twins should make him a qualifying offer if Parmelee handles RF reasonably well this season. At least get some compensation if they're not going to sign him to a multi-year.

      I think there's still room on the roster for Morneau after this season, especially since everyone seems to think that Willingham will get dealt when the Twins are out of it by the trade deadline. Maybe a 3-year deal? next year's OF rotation becomes Arcia, Hicks, & Parmelee with Benson as the 4th, Parmelee backing up Morneau?

      Keep in mind, right now there's little depth at 1B in the Twins system behind Parmelee. Maybe Sano ends up there, but he still needs to learn the position and we know the Twins are hoping he can stick at 3B.
    1. strumdatjag's Avatar
      strumdatjag -
      The first baseman of the future for the Twins is Joe Mauer. The Twins should try to get some value for Morneau near the trade deadline (if the Twins are not contending).
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      There are a few things to think about.

      1) There is no obvious DH for the 2014-2016 team with this next wave of propspects. The MIF situation isn't that nice either (though I could see them rushing Rosario). Depending on how they draft his year, the pitching should be fine. As already said, a healthy Justin still has a few more "cornerstone" years and could fit into this wave quite nicely during that time.

      2) Nothing prevents a trade and then a resign as a free agent next year. I know it's rare, but it can happen. Trading Justin isn't necessarily a guarantee that they lose him. The question will have more to do with what they pay him, and unless he really wants to be back, there will not be a hometown discount. The question at hand has more to do with what Justin wants than anything else. If the Jays offered him a 2 year deal, he'd have to consider taking it for no other reason than that they'd be a contending team during that timeframe. If the Twins got a decent prospect for him (particularly a middle infielder/pitcher that can fit into the 2015 team), I'd say they have no choice but to do it if that offer came.
    1. fairweather's Avatar
      fairweather -
      The Twins should be trying to trade Mauer not Morneau.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by fairweather View Post
      The Twins should be trying to trade Mauer not Morneau.
      I had to look up your IP address just to make sure you weren't a certain mullet-sporting hockey blogger from St. Cloud. Your irrational Mauer hatred isn't quite as professionally troll-y as his yet but keep at it, tiger. You'll get there someday.
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      Something tells me that the Twins won't trade Justin if he has a good year. Unless of course... they are blown away with an offer.

      If he has a good year... He will at least be offered the 13 Million qualifier. After that it's up to Justin.

      Yes... we have young talent but it shouldn't be a case of this guy is a starter and this guy is a bench guy. All baseball teams need depth and a creative manager can get players in the lineup and if we have Parmelee and Morneau and Arcia and Willingham and Doumit and Mauer all doing well. Good for us. There will be room for all of them in 2014. It would be a good problem to have. Depth would be awesome.

      If Morneau has another injury riddled or a plain ole so-so year and the Twins are not in contention. Then you may see him dumped in a trade for someone of marginal value or he will simply not be offered 13 Million and he becomes a free agent.

      In my opinion... 3 things have to happen for Justin to be moved.

      1. The Twins are out of contention in July.
      2. Justin is healthy and raking.
      3. A contending club is desperate for a big bat 1B and willing to part with a high level prospect.

      I think #3 will be the biggest hurdle.
    1. Boom Boom's Avatar
      Boom Boom -
      Why does it seem like the Twins will be more likely to trade Willingham than Morneau? Does the extra contract year increase Willingham's trade value?

      I get that Morneau's been hurt a lot, but Willingham doesn't exactly have a sparkling medical record either. I think the Twins want to keep "their guys" and Morneau is one of us while Willingham isn't.
    1. birdwatcher's Avatar
      birdwatcher -
      I'm hoping for the scenario painted by Riverbrian: that Morneau is healthy and a 800 OPS+ player; and that Toronto or Texas values him more than we do, thereby relinquishing a B+ pitching prospect from A-ball. I'd hope the Twins would throw some money in to upgrade the prospect.

      I also believe that's unlikely, and the next best option would be to make the $13M offer gain something either way from Morneau's decision.
    1. jmlease1's Avatar
      jmlease1 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Boom Boom View Post
      Why does it seem like the Twins will be more likely to trade Willingham than Morneau? Does the extra contract year increase Willingham's trade value?

      I get that Morneau's been hurt a lot, but Willingham doesn't exactly have a sparkling medical record either. I think the Twins want to keep "their guys" and Morneau is one of us while Willingham isn't.
      The extra year and the lower price are exactly why, especially since while he's had some issues staying healthy there's nothing in there that throws up a medical red flag like Morneau's concussion issue where one pitch could end his career. Plus, the Twins have prospects coming up that are nearly ready in the OF, making it easier to move one.

      If Willingham is hitting like last season near the deadline there could be a nice market for him. You'd have to listen, especially if Arcia is raking in AAA and there's a decent offer. The Twins could get a mid-to-upper level prospect plus for Willingham in those circumstances, depending on what contenders need. Morneau is less likely to bring that return with free agency pending and less recent production & health.

      I still do not favor just giving either away for whatever we can get in a salary dump like some advocate.
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