For Better or Worse: Justin Morneau
by, 01-18-2013 at 12:16 AM (718 Views)
Justin Morneau presents a paradox for the 2013 Twins. If the club is truly in full rebuild mode and is more interested in saving money than taking financial risks in a meaningful effort to compete -- as appears to be the case -- then why hang on to an expensive veteran with one year left on his contract? Surely some team out there would be willing to take on Morneau, although there probably wouldn't be much of a return in the swap.
The answer, I believe, is that the Twins still view Morneau as a star-caliber core player -- albeit one who's been heavily burdened by injuries over the past couple years. Trading him for a minimal return at this point would be Terry Ryan's most appalling salary shed yet. If the first baseman jumps out to a hot start this year, his value could rise significantly, and the Twins appear to be counting on just that.
Morneau's campaign was very much a mixed bag. While it was a major step forward from the disastrous season that preceded it, his .773 OPS was slightly below the league average for first basemen and he failed to reach 140 games played for a fourth straight year. Given the circumstances, his effort has to be viewed as a considerable success, but when you take all that way he was simply a mediocre first baseman who missed nearly 20 percent of the season and cost $14 million.
Of course, we know Morneau is better than that. And he showed flashes of it at times. But can he pull it all together?
Why He'll Be Better
Morneau's 2011 campaign was completely washed away by complications resulting from a 2010 concussion. That injury became less of an issue last year, but unfortunately several other ailments -- along with plain old rust -- seemed to take a toll on him for much of the season. Nevertheless, for extended stretches we saw glimpses of the dominant hitter who had anchored the middle of the lineup for many years.
Reports indicate that Morneau is now as healthy as he's been since suffering that fateful concussion. For the first time in several years, he's been able to go about his normal offseason routine, and he has already committed to playing for Team Canada in March's World Baseball Classic. Considering that he's entering a contract year, his willingness to take that extra step says a lot about how confident he's feeling in the state of his body.
He's past 30, but Morneau is still in the latter stage of his physical prime and if he can truly put the nagging head and wrist problems behind him, it's not difficult to envision a return to form that sees him batting .300 with elite home run and RBI totals.
Why He'll Be Worse
We've heard these refrains about Morneau's health before, pretty much ever since his initial concussion. Doctors, coaches and Morneau himself have always chosen to take an optimistic approach, only to inevitably hit bumps in the road. By spring training of last year, it was clear that these realities were bearing down on the first baseman, who openly spoke about the possibility of retiring if his troubling trends continued.
Things always look bright and peachy at this time of year, but one bad swing that wakes up his wrist or one jarring blow to the head could send Morneau back down the same spiral. It was pretty obvious last year that his talent is still there, so it will all come down to how well his body can hold up.
I don't think anyone doubts the slugger's ability to dominate offensively as long as he can stay out of the trainer's room. But not since 2008 has Morneau made it through a full season without some sort of significant malady. Is this the year he finally puts it all behind him?