Will Twins bring back Morneau in 2013 ?
While they are mired in the present and gazing at the future, the Minnesota Twins recognize they must return to the past to become a contender again.
At 52-76 entering Tuesday night’s clash with Seattle, the Twins have the worst record in the American League and the third worst mark in the majors.
Though they are considered a small market franchise, the Twins captured six American League Central titles from 2002 to 2010 focusing on effective starting pitching, exceptional defense and fundamentally sound “small ball.” Injuries to key names like Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, plus the defections of Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer last off-season as well as ineffective starting pitching, an overworked bullpen and shoddy fielding have contributed to back-to-back disappointing seasons, including 99 losses in 2011.
As the Twins look to rebuild for 2013 and beyond, it is uncertain whether the future will include 2006 American League Most Valuable Player Justin Morneau. Signed through 2013 at $14 million next season, the 31-year-old first baseman was placed on revocable waivers, claimed by another team and pulled back by the Twins, according to CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman.
Since the Twins did not complete a trade with the claiming team, Morneau will remain in Minnesota through the end of the season, unless he is placed on irrevocable waivers and the claiming team will take him and his remaining contract. As Heyman pointed out, the Twins are not likely to do that because they don’t want to give him away without compensation.
Morneau’s 2011 season reached an abrupt halt with a concussion, which was the second one over a 14-month stretch. Last year, he also underwent four operations – one each on left wrist, left knee, right foot and neck.
Morneau’s first concussion happened on July 7, 2010 while sliding into second base against the Blue Jays. He was batting .345 with 18 home runs and 56 RBI in 296 at-bats and on his way to an MVP-caliber season. After winning the award in 2006, he was runner-up in 2008 while batting .300 and driving in 129 runs.
With his myriad of injuries and medical procedures last year, Morneau batted just .227 with four home runs and 30 RBI in 260 at-bats. This season, though, he regained his health and has a .274 average with 17 home runs, 25 doubles and 61 RBI in 405 at-bats. This is the first year since 2009 that the British Columbia native has exceeded 100 games.
If he remains in Minnesota beyond this season, and after 2013 (when his current contract expires), his future will likely be at DH since fellow AL MVP winner Joe Mauer will see more time at first base. On Monday at Target Field, Mauer passed Earl Battey (1961-1967) in career games caught for the Twins at 832.
The 29-year-old Mauer, who is signed through 2018 at $23 million a season, is splitting time between catcher, first base and DH this season to keep him healthy after he was limited to 82 games ) hitting .287 with three home runs and 30 RBI in 296 at-bats. In 2012, Mauer has 119 games and 443 at-bats to accompany a .312 average with eight home runs, 66 RBI and a .835 OPS.
Bolstering the rotation for 2013 will be critical for the Twins, which have the worst starters’ ERA in the American League at 5.50. Scott Diamond, a 26-year-old left-hander who had appeared in seven Major League games (all with the Twins) before this season, is 10-5 with a 3.04 ERA in 20 starts.
Beyond Diamond, who was recently suspended six games by Major League Baseball for throwing at Josh Hamilton on Thursday but will make his scheduled start on Tuesday night, the Twins rotation is lacking quality arms. The team’s three top prospects according to MLB.com – third baseman Miguel Sano, outfielder Aaron Hicks and second baseman Eddie Rosario – are not Major League ready and the Twins could use upgrades at second base, shortstop and third base.
The Twins have multiple needs, but they first must determine if they will bring back Morneau in 2013 and give him a contract extension that would allow him to share time at first base and DH with MVP cohort Mauer.