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.

Three thoughts from LEN3: The Justin Morneau trade

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: August 31, 2013 - 5:46 PM

Here are three thoughts following the Twins' trade of Justin Morneau:

1. ANOTHER SELL LOW MOMENT: It's unlikely that the player to be named later in this deal will be a top prospect. In fact, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review posts that, ``the Pirates did not have to give up significant prospects,'' in the deal. There was no chance of that, given how Morneau's season has gone. A .259/.315/.426 slash line is not going to excite anyone - even if he produced much better in August than July. But Morneau is a good fit for a Pirates team with some of the worst first base production in baseball. The Twins receive an outfielder in Alex Presley that looks like a fourth outfielder. He's 28 years old, so he has very little upside. So the Twins just traded one of their faces of the franchise for someone who doesn't project to be a starter. This reeks of recent trades of Francisco Liriano, Delmon Young, and J.J. Hardy for players who failed to produce. When will they tire of getting rid of someone just to get something in return? Where does Presley fit into the future of the franchise? Unless Morneau asked to be moved to a contender, which would be a surprise, the Twins will be challenged to explain how this deal helps them. Are the Twins intentionally cutting payroll? I'm not going there. But the payroll has fallen under $75 million, and some fans are going to look at that and be outraged. Something else for the Twins to explain.

2. 10 AND 5?: 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 crossing the ten-year threshold and 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, making it hard for the Twins to move him. At this moment, I'm not sure how much of a factor this was in deciding to trade him. I asked one person who is affected by the trade and was told, ``it certainly could have,'' been a factor. Now if the Twins re-sign him for 2014, he won't have those rights. Will he re-sign? Good question. It happened with Rick Aguilera in 1995 when he was traded to the Red Sox for Frankie Rodriguez and a player to be named later (J.J. Johnson). Aggie signed back with the Twins next offseason. Morneau likes it here and his wife's family is here. He could come back. But many of you know what it's like when you look around for jobs and find out that other companies covet your services. Morneau could hit the free agent market and find a team that says and does the right things to land him. We'll see.

3. WHAT DO THE TWINS LOSE? This is Morneau's best season since since the concussion disaster of 2010. He still has a ways to go before he can regain his old form, but this season is one he can build off of. He was a good teammate and a neat guy to talk to. When you could get him at his clubhouse stall, you usually got good stuff in return. He fined himself once for not getting his post-game running in after a spring training game. He walked right into Gardy's office after the game and handed him a $100 bill. He lost a bet with me (Blackhawks-Canucks related, of course) and had to blog in this space. It wasn't the greatest of blogs, but he got points for the effort. Gardy could rely on Morneau to help keep things in order in the clubhouse. Gardy would be ready to straighten out a young player after a mistake, but Morneau would stop him and say, `I got this,' and take care of it himself. There was a game a couple years ago in Seattle when, after Danny Valencia and Delmon Young had unprofessional at bats in a loss, Morneau let them have it after the game, slamming his bat in his stall in the process. I know, Valencia and Young haven't accomplished much since, but there were efforts to straighten them out. That's just one example. Morneau's departure leaves a leadership void and a good quote void in the clubhouse. I'm realizing as I write this that I won't get to cover this guy for rest of the year. Crap. After watching Michael Cuddyer, Joe Nathan, Torii Hunter and others leave through the years, this is not a good clubhouse for personality or quotes.

3A. THE FUTURE OF FIRST BASE IN MINNESOTA: Joe Mauer gets first dibs if he's ready to not be a catcher. But I can't see him giving up catching so quickly after being adamant about wanting to stay behind the plate. Remember, Mauer turned 30 this year and just had his first baseball-related concussion. Chris Parmelee could get a crack at first base next season, but you have to wonder what has happened to his swing after being sent to Rochester and batting .219 in 42 games there. Someone thought Trevor Plouffe could move there (to get out of the way of the Miguel Sano express) but he's batting .234 over his last 872 plate appearances, with declinling power. Has he run out of chances with this team? The Twins might have to consider buying a reasonably-priced first baseman to play there next seaason, someone who could be as asset in the clubhouse as well. There's some guy named Morneau who will be a free agent after the season. Maybe the Twins should take a look at him.

 

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