The Minnesota Twins’ offseason has been interesting to say the least.
With the team trading away not one but two of their major league ready center fielders, the writing on the wall at 1 Twins Way appears to read that the focus is on the future. Outwardly, the Twins are sending the message that they are doing what they can to build a competitive team in 2013 but also taking measures to fortify the club for the coming years. Behind closed doors however, the tone may be different as the reality is that the organization recognizes the window for success begins at least one year down the road.
And this may be the reason why Justin Morneau could be traded yet this offseason.
During the winter meetings, the Twins were reported to have been “gauging interest” from other teams on what they would give for Morneau. Obviously nothing materialized at the time and, furthermore, the Twins may have simply been testing the waters rather than outright shopping their first baseman. That said, as the team made abundantly clear after last season, no one is untradeable.
The conditions were not favorable at the time of baseball’s annual agent orgy, at least not for the first base market. Had someone like the Orioles offered up a top flight arm, Morneau may already be eating Maryland crab cakes. Instead, teams were still addressing other needs. Targeting vital up-the-middle position players. Trying to land top-of-the-rotation arms. The game’s top free agents had yet to sign. The dominoes were still mostly intact.
That changed yesterday when Angels signed outfielder Josh Hamilton out from under the Texas Rangers’ nose. Not only did the Rangers lose a talented player to their division rival, they also became fairly exposed from the left-side of the plate.
Because of that, it may not be long before the Rangers call on Morneau and ask: “How much?”
Aside from losing Hamilton’s production from the left side, they also have lost their designated hitter in Young. Potentially desperate to address those needs, Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels may be inquiring on Morneau soon. With the Angels launching themselves into the catbird seat of the AL West and the surprising and youthful Oakland A’s extremely competitive as well, Daniels will surely need to counteract what his rivals have done this winter.
From the Rangers’ perspective, targeting Morneau makes plenty of sense. In spite of witnessing a decline in his home run totals in recent years, a new venue could help rejuvenate the Canadian slugger. The Ballpark at Arlington is one of the most favorable environments for left-handed hitters to play. According to StatCorner.com’s Park Factors, Texas’s stadium has a home run factor of 117 (anything over 100 favors hitters). By comparison, Target Field’s confines thwart that type of power production to the tune of 78. In theory, Morneau’s numbers would be enhanced significantly with the Rangers.
Additionally, with one year left on his contract, it would be a relatively risk-free (minus the concussion, of course) deal for Texas. Under most circumstances, the idea of asking a team to absorb $14M for a 31-year-old with injury issues may be a tall task, however, Texas is one of a few teams who seem able to assume the risk. The Rangers, who have lost Hamilton’s previous contract ($15.25M), Mike Napoli’s ($9.4M) and a portion of Michael Young’s ($5.5M of his total $16M owed), have payroll space to add Morneau’s contract if they so choose. As it stands, they have roughly $50M committed to players (pre-arbitration contracts, of course) after reached $120M in 2012. After all, in addition to whatever revenue they generate for being one of the best attended teams in the American League (2of 14), they also have approximately $80 million a year coming in from their TV deal with Fox Sports Southwest.
Conversely, by most measures, the Rangers are a smart team. Daniels has been one of the most impressive general managers in the game – building his organization from the ground up, emphasizing scouting, bringing in elite international talent and targeting quality free agents. After making several moves to acquire players like Cliff Lee and Ryan Dempster in recent years, he has also lost some notable prospect talent so it is hard to envision the Rangers sacrificing much in any deal.
Likewise, the overall market for Morneau was lukewarm at best at the deadline last year. Even losing a star player to a division opponent may not be enough to inspire Daniels to surrender the young pitching the Twins are hoping for.
Does Morneau make the Twins better in 2013? Yes. Would trading him upset the fan base? Of course. Is he untouchable? Obviously not. The Twins sent the message at the winter meeting that Morneau could be had for a price, not it appears that the Rangers maybe in a position where they might have to pay that.