A lot of people are nervous about Justin Morneau's return and I count myself among them.

It's not a dark cloud of gloom and third-place doom, but the idea that he was waiting until this month to get into the batting cage and Bill Smith talking about an April 1 target date has been a little disconcerting. One reason is emotional: We'd all like to see Morneau running around and swatting line drives and being his pre-concussion self during spring training in Fort Myers.

The other is more tangible: If you listen to too much winter-baseball chat, as I am prone to doing, you almost always hear players include "taking swings in the cage" in their winter routine.

So I'd really like to hear by now that Morneau has been smashing the ball against the netting of some Arizona batting cage. That's just me. La Velle offered up a much more optimistic take on Morneau during his State of the Twins update at last Friday's Hot Stove Banquet.

And there's precedent on the Twins side for taking things slowly with a front-line star.

Joe Mauer in 2009.

Go back to that winter and spring training, and we were hearing about Mauer's minor-surgery to clear up a long-time kidney obstruction, followed by the back problem that caused him -- because the Twins were being very, very cautious -- to miss the first month of the season. You'll remember that he came back with that unholy home-run tear (11 home runs in his first 100 plate appearances and reaching base 53 percent of the time.)

Mauer went on to have the season by which he will forever be judged, which is one of the burdens he carries (and rightfully so) in return for making $23 million per year.

So if the Twins are playing it excruciatingly slow with Morneau, I'm going to very cautiously give management the benefit of the doubt.

Some other issues I want to ponder between now and the first days of spring training:

*What's reasonable to expect from Mauer -- other than everything and more?

*The middle infield. It may be the minority position, but I'm more intrigued than concerned about the makeover.

*Replacing the departed relievers. From quantity there has to be some quality, right?

*Michael Cuddyer's value. Is it higher in "real" baseball than it is on a spreadsheet?

But don't wait for me. Have at those now.



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