Souhan: Healthy Morneau knows he could be cornerstone or trading chip

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 15, 2013 - 6:00 PM

Justin Morneau is finally healthy, which means he could again be a cornerstone of the Twins’ offense — or trade bait if the team isn’t contending.

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Twins first baseman Justin Morneau is healthy now, but he pondered retirement during the worst times of his concussion recovery.

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ustin Morneau can’t believe Joe Mauer will be the father of twins.

“I mean, is he going to name them Minnie and Paul?” Morneau asked, citing the names of the Minnesota Twins shaking hands in the team logo. “Someone in here said this means Miguel Cabrera’s wife is going to have a tiger.”

The M&M Boys still locker next to one another in the Twins’ spring training clubhouse, same as they have since they were gangly kids, but this season will be different for the friends and franchise players.

They’re both healthy during a spring camp for perhaps the first time since 2008. And they know that by August they might be communicating via text.

Morneau’s injury history and Mauer’s $23 million a year income suggest the two might not coexist much longer on a middling payroll. Morneau could be traded during the season, or allowed to leave in free agency at the end of it. He’d like to make the Twins think twice about parting with the guy who has been their most important player in terms of run production and clubhouse presence since 2004.

“I think if I’m healthy, I can help us win,” he said. “I’d rather win here than win somewhere else. This is the only organization I’ve ever known. Everybody has been great to me. They’ve stuck with me through the growing pains and the injuries. Everybody’s been there for the good times, too. I think there is something rewarding about winning with the guys you know as opposed to joining somebody else in the middle of their fun.”

Morneau looks and sounds like a different human this spring. Last year, plagued by concussion symptoms, he showed up in Fort Myers looking pale and skinny, and sounding ominously philosophical.

He admitted then that he had thought about ending his career if he couldn’t play with a clear head and healthy body. He meant it. “I think it was the first time that question was posed in public,” he said. “It wasn’t the first time I had thought about it. To me, it was an easy answer. I was going through the whole winter and I didn’t feel as good as I should have or wanted to.

“I was just at that point of reality, thinking, ‘How long can you keep putting yourself through something like that?’ I’m not saying it was an easy choice. This is what I wanted to do. But if it would have affected the rest of my life, then it wouldn’t have made a whole lot of sense to keep trying.

“Obviously, it would have been a big deal, if that’s what would have had to happen. But there comes a time when you just have to say enough is enough, and I’m glad it didn’t get to that point.”

When Morneau first showed up as a prospect in Twins camp, he was a big, goofy kid who loved hockey and home runs and didn’t seem to think much about anything else. Now he’s a father, the most prominent personality in a quiet clubhouse, a symbol of the devastating effect of concussions, a career-long Twin and the most obvious trading chip for a rebuilding team.

“I’ve learned patience,” he said with a smile. “It’s funny how that comes with age.”

Morneau will have his patience, loyalty and foresight tested. This hypothetical situation was presented to him: What if he plays well this summer and the Twins ask him to sign a contract extension that isn’t market value for a cornerstone player?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I think it depends on how the team is doing. Probably the biggest thing that will factor into my decision will be whether we can win. It depends on the outlook. Whether they view me as part of that puzzle or not. I think it’s something that will be out of my control.

“At the same time, it’s going to depend on how I’m playing. You know, it’s impossible to say right now. If I’m happy and I feel like we can win, there’s nowhere else I’d rather play. I know that.”

 

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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