Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.


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Extending Morneau might be better than a trade

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: July 5, 2013 - 12:27 PM

The Timberwolves have agreed to a four-year contract with Kevin Martin, a 6-foot-7 shooter and not much of a defender. Martin turned 30 on Feb. 1, meaning the Wolves have agreed to pay him until he's 34.

The Wild gave up a sizable ransom to acquire forward Jason Pominville in early April. He will turn 31 on Nov. 30. His contract will expire at the end of the 2013-14 season, making him a possible free agent at this time next year.

Presumably, the Wild did not give up forward Johan Larsson, goalie Matt Hackett and this year's 15th overall draft choice (defenseman Nikita Zadorov) for Pominville, if the intention was other than to sign him to an extension. If he's productive at all in the season ahead, that would require a three-year deal and take him several months past his 34th birthday.

Justin Morneau signed with the Twins as a third-round draft choice in 1999. He came to stay as the Twins' first baseman in the second half of the 2004 season. He was the American League's MVP in 2006. He signed a six-year, $80 million contract in January 2008 that will expire after this season.

Morneau had a back problem late in the 2009 season, a concussion and ongoing symptoms that ruined his 2010 and 2011 seasons, and a wrist problem that cut into his 2012 season.

He turned 32 on May 15 and is playing at full health for the first time since the first half of 2010. There will be reminders when that changed for Morneau and the Twins on Sunday, when they play the last of a three-game series in Toronto.

Sunday's game will mark three years, July 7, 2010, since Morneau was kicked in the head by Toronto's John McDonald on a play at second base. It also will mark a revival in Morneau's game that is giving both the team and the player improved options for what lies ahead in his career.

All of us were worked up when Morneau went 168 at-bats -- from April 28 to June 19 -- without a home run. Morneau was among the irritated over this "lack of power,'' as it was routinely described.

Minus the long ball, he did remain functional, with 12 doubles and 27 RBI in the 43 games played between home runs.

On Thursday, Morneau hit a pair of home runs, putting his total at six and increasing his RBI total to 50. He's a good bet to get back to 100 for the first time since 2009 -- the end of a four-year run where he averaged 117 RBI.

Many Twins fans and baseball analysts are looking at this RBI production as a chance for the team to trade Morneau this month, before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

This fails to take into account a couple of things:

One, pitching is always more in demand and a more-valuable commodity in July than are veteran hitters; and two, the failure of Chris Pamelee to become a qualified big-league hitter means there is not a viable replacement for Morneau as the first baseman for next season, and perhaps beyond.

Miguel Sano? The Twins insist he's a third baseman. Trevor Plouffe? He's in a decent streak lately, but anyone ready to pronounce him as a worthy replacement for Morneau at first base and in the middle of the lineup is reading way too much into a couple of weeks of good at-bats.

Morneau probably rates as 80 percent of the threat he was as a 29-year-old, before getting kicked in the head. But with Joe Mauer not driving in runs and striking out like a late-blooming Rob Deer, Morneau is back to what he was before that trip to Toronto in July 2009:

The most-important hitter in the Twins lineup.

The Twins' stance in the next three weeks has to be this: Unless they are offered an outstanding prospect -- meaning, among the top handful from an organization with viable prospects -- then there's no sense in moving Morneau.

There's some hint that both parties are interested in an extension. If the Twins could get Morneau for two years at $10 million per, that would be much better than moving him this month for a couple of suspects considered expendable by a contender.

A two-year deal would take Morneau past his 34th birthday. And, I'd rather be paying Morneau the going rate at 34 than Kevin Martin or Jason Pominville.

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