La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.

Morneau traded to Pittsburgh for outfielder

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: August 31, 2013 - 3:43 PM

First baseman Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP and one-half of the popular M & M boys tandem with Joe Mauer, has been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for outfielder Alex Presley and a player to be named later or cash.

The move caps weeks of speculation about Morneau's future with the Twins, as he's in the final year of a six-year, $80 million deal. He's making $14 million this season, but it's unclear if the Pirates are on the hook for the rest of the contract or not. He has been rumored in trade talks for much of the season, as Pittsburgh and the Twins discussed a deal before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

Morneau on Friday hit career home run No. 221, moving him into sole possession of third place on the Twins' all-time list. It also helped the Twins beat Yu Darvish and the Rangers. As our Phil Miller pointed out, it's quite a way to end a career with a team.

Presley, 28, batted .264 with 2 homers and 4 RBI in 29 games for Pittsburgh this season. He's a career .292 hitter over eight minor league seasons. He's played in 204 games with the Pirates over four seasons, batting .261 with 16 homers and 49 RBI.

As Morneau developed into a star, he established himself as a fan favorite. His close friendship with Mauer has been well-documented, from the time they were playing with equipment in a sporting good store in Fort Myers as prospects to sharing a condo in St. Paul to being the fulcrum of the Twins offense.

The trade ends quite a run with the Twins for Morneau, a third-round pick in 1999 who rocketed to stardom, leading the 2006 team to the postseason when he was unstoppable over the final four months of the season. He's a four-time All-Star and former Home Run Derby champion.

Fame didn't come without growing pains. Morneau was slowed by many ailments in his early years with the Twins. During one offseason he went through appendicitis, chicken pox, pleurisy and pneumonia.

Other ailments were self-inflicted. Like his lack of dedication to getting the most out of his ability - and his habit of hanging out with his friends a little too much whenever he visited Seattle, which isn't far from British Columbia, where he grew up. It was in Seattle in 2006 when manager Ron Gardenhire aired Morneau out about some of his off-the-field habits. Shortly after that, Morneau began his run to the MVP award.

The Twins finished the 2006 season 71-33, with Morneau batting .362 with 22 homers and 92 RBI during the stretch.

Morneau was reminded of the 2006 meeting with Gardenhire last weekend while the team was in Cleveland.

``That turned my career around,'' he said.

That was one of the high points. The low point is the concussion he suffered during the 2010 season when he took a knee to the head while sliding into second base. He he was primed for another huge year, as he was batting .345 with 18 home runs and 56 RBI. The injury ended Morneau's season - and he hasn't produced the same way since then.

Morneau leaves the Twins with a .278 career average, 221 home runs 860 RBI and a on base-plus-slugging percentage of .832. And his stats really should be larger - but injuries have gotten in the way. And the Twins' postseason success might have been different.

Morneau hasn't played in a postseason game since 2006. He missed the 2009 postseason with a stress fracture in his lower back and the 2010 playoffs because of the concussion. It''s the classic. "what if," angle, but the Twins were unable to take on the Yankees in those series with Morneau and Mauer in the lineup, and that's a big difference.

UPDATE

Morneau rode the team bus to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington this afternoon, but has left for the airport, where he's scheduled to catch a 4:10 p.m. flight to Pittsburgh.

And here's another thing: I'm not sure this was a reason for the deal, but it has me wondering. Morneau has a six-team no trade clause in his contract. But he also will finish the year with 9 years, 168 days of service time. That's a few days away from earning 10 and 5 rights - 10 years in the league, five with the same team. If he remained with the Twins in 2014, he would have had the right to veto any trade.

Can't help to think that might have played a factor in the decision to move him now.

  

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