Justin Morneau's name has surfaced in trade rumors this season, but don't bet on the Twins dealing him away this year.
Morneau simply doesn't have much trade value right now because he is struggling, he is a major injury risk, and he is owed about $21 million through the end of his contract in 2013.
Morneau, 31, is a four-time All-Star and a former American League MVP with an .845 career OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage), so one might think a team such as the Blue Jays or Orioles would gamble on him, giving the Twins a nice prospect haul in return.
But to get an idea of what a Morneau trade would look like -- even next year, when the contract is less of an issue -- consider Boston's recent trade of Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox.
Youkilis, 33, is a three-time All-Star with an .874 career OPS who has battled injuries in recent years. Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine criticized him in April, senselessly picking on a fan favorite and hurting Youkilis' trade value because it was clear something had to give.
Boston wound up sending Youkilis to Chicago for pitcher Zach Stewart and utility man Brent Lillibridge. That's a ho-hum return, and the Red Sox agreed to pay most of the money Youkilis has remaining on his contract -- $5 million to $6 million.
It was a good deal for the White Sox, whose third basemen were batting a combined .167 before the trade. Youkilis was batting only .233 with a .692 OPS for Boston, but his track record suggests he can do better if he just stays healthy. In his first series for Chicago, he went 5-for-12 against the Twins.
The Red Sox reportedly came close to a deal with Cleveland but chose the White Sox because they like Stewart's potential. The righthander tossed a one-hit shutout against the Twins last Sept. 5. He pitched mostly in relief for Chicago this year, posting a 6.00 ERA, but the Red Sox immediately sent him to Class AAA Pawtucket to stretch into a starter.
"He's got three solid pitches, throws strikes and has a good minor league track record," Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington said. "He's a guy who looks like a major league starter and needs more time in Triple-A. He'll be a big part of our pitching depth."
But as one National League executive said this week, this wasn't a trade that made the Red Sox better, as much as it shifted some necessary pieces around for them. Rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks has been terrific this year, making Youkilis expendable.
Maybe next year, Chris Parmelee will establish himself at first base, and the Twins will be looking to clear a path by trading Morneau. But unless Morneau regains his 2010 form, pre-concussion, it's hard to imagine them getting a major prospect haul for him. To land even one good prospect, they might need to eat most of his salary, as Boston did with Youkilis.
As this year's July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline nears, the Twins should be active. They will probably take the best deal they can get for Francisco Liriano, a pending free agent, and listen to offers for Denard Span, who is under contract through 2014.
But Morneau isn't going anywhere soon. He is still a franchise cornerstone, with fans pulling for him to stay healthy and find his old swing. For now, the Twins don't have to worry about the public backlash that might come if they traded him. The return wouldn't be enough to have it make sense.