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Top 10 Stories For 2013: #2 Whither Justin?

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: March 27, 2013 - 10:02 PM

 

“Look at every path closely and deliberately, then ask ourselves this crucial question: Does this path have a heart? If it does, then the path is good. If it doesn't, it is of no use.”

 

-Carlos Castenada

It was seven years ago – in 2006 – that Justin Morneau won his American League Most Valuable Player award. That year Brad Radke was still pitching. Johan Santana was still a Minnesota Twin. All that existed of Target Field was the funding. And Justin Morneau was just 25 years old.

This year, he’ll turn 32. And his six-year contract with the Twins, which was signed a year after he won the MVP, will end. The question is whether that will also be the end of his Twins career.


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Morneau followed that 2006 season with three-and-a-half productive seasons, never giving anyone cause to doubt that he would finish his career as one of the top Twins of all time. But midway through 2010, which was shaping up to be the best season he had ever had, he slid into second base and his head hit John McDonald’s knee. It gave him a concussion, ended his season and ruined huge stretches of two more.

By most observations, that seems to be behind him now, as do the nagging injuries and rust that the hiatus also brought. Morneau is in a position to have a healthy, productive season. Whether he will or not is one question. The second is what the Twins will do if he does.

Worst Case Scenario
We’ve seen the worst case scenario. It’s the second half of 2010. And 2011. And the first half of 2012. The worst case scenario is that Morneau is hurt – a wrist injury or a back injury or a case of hypothermia from returning to Canada sometime before June. But worst of all would be another serious concussion, which might end his career.

Best Case Scenario
The tougher question is “What is the best case scenario?” Obviously it involves Morneau rediscovering his boom-boom stick (as Bat Girl used to call it). But then what? Your answer may depend on whether you want to follow your head or your heart.

Your head is going to ask whether it makes sense for the Twins to invest in a 32-year-old with a recent injury history that would give even the Canadian health care system pause. This is a team that is actively rebuilding, who has several high-upside prospects approaching the majors, and some of them have their own boom-boom sticks. Is it time for Morneau to make room, just like it was time for Doug Mientkiewicz to make room for him?

But your heart wants to know why we would cut bait on a player who could still end up as one of the best Twins of all time. Morneau has a decent chance this year of moving up to fourth all-time on the Twins home run list, and third place (Bob Allison) and second place (Kent Hrbek) are within reach before his career is over. Morneau can serve as a bridge from one generation of the Twins to the next, just like Brad Radke did for the last generation. Plus, he lives here. He married here. Can’t we, as Minnesota Twins fans, EVER have nice things?

Signs To Look For
Obviously, a lot depends on Morneau. He needs to stay healthy. He needs to be productive. It would be best if he could hit left-handers again like he seemed to over the second half of last season. But he’s not the whole equation.

Playing about 50 yards behind Morneau on the diamond is “right-fielder” Chris Parmelee. Like Morneau in 2006, Parmelee is 25 years old. Like Morneau, he’s a left-handed hitter. Last year as a 24-year-old, he slugged 17 home runs in just 228 AB in AAA-Rochester, or one every 13+ at-bats. (Morneau slugged 22 in 288 AB – or one every 13 AB – as a 23-year-old.) Finally, Parmelee’s best position, where he started all 62 games in Rochester, is first base. It’s probably fair to suggest that if Parmelee hits well, it would make losing Morneau easier on the Twins front office.

There is also the Toronto Blue Jays. They’ve coveted Morneau both for his performance and Canadian ties for years. And despite their other expensive roster additions, their designated hitter is still Adam Lind, who hasn’t cleared a 734 OPS since 2009. If they find themselves in the middle of contention and with a black hole in their lineup, why not pay the freight on Morneau?

But will the Twins listen? It might depend on whether they want to trust their head or their heart.

 


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