Monday, August 26, 2013

Who's on first next year?

Justin Morneau looks at umpire C.B. Bucknor
after being called out on strikes.
The Monday print column expanded a bit on a post from last week about Joe Mauer and the possibility that his current concussion will hasten a position change for the Twins star.

But let's say Mauer remains the Twins primary catcher. What are the first base options for 2014?

Justin Morneau will be a free agent this winter. For all the trade speculation that surrounded the former MVP this summer, there really appears to have been limited interest in him elsewhere.

He's no longer a franchise centerpiece and doesn't belong in the middle of the order anymore, but ... he's probably more valuable to the Twins than he is to anybody else, he's put down roots in Minnesota, and the rise of the likes of Miguel Sano, Oswaldo Arcia, Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton means the Twins may, as early as the middle of 2014, be in a position to move Morneau to a place in the bottom half of the lineup.

Current take: I'd say it's at least 50-50 that Morneau is the Twins first baseman next year.

Chris Parmelee, long the heir apparent at first base, was the regular right fielder early on but didn't hit. He was optioned out at the All-Star break, a move that surprised me more than it probably should have, and ... he hasn't hit in Rochester either (.225/.331/.355). It's the dismal slugging percentage that is most alarming. I really expected him to grab Triple A by the throat, as he did in 2012. That didn't happen.

Current take: I think Parmelee is out of options after this season. He may not get a September call-up. He certainly can't be prominent in the front office's plans for 2014.

Chris Colabello has bounced up and down between Minnesota and Rochester in the second half. The minor league veteran has dominated the International League but has been highly strikeout-prone in limited major-league at-bats.

Current take: I have difficulty imagining the Twins committing this offseason to Colabello as a regular. He has a better shot than Parmelee, but his best chance is as an injury replacement.

Jose Abreu is an intriguing notion, and probably the free agent first baseman with the most potential to pay off. He's a Cuban defector, 26, who has been a masher in the top league on the island. He's establishing residency in Haiti and his immigration status is far from settled, but the speculation is that someone will offer him a six-year, $60 million deal to play in the United States when he's cleared.

Current take: The Twins don't have a track record of pursuing big-bucks free agents, and they don't appear often in the "informed speculation" around Abreu. That kind of talk has focused on the likes of Texas, Boston and the Mets. But few thought Oakland would land Yoenis Cepedes, and few connected Cincinnati with Aroldis Chapman; the big-market teams haven't often splurged on the Cubans. The Twins have the budget room to make a $10 million-a-year commitment (especially with Morneau coming off the books); it's far from certain they have the gambler's mentality the move would take.

Conclusion

All of this hinges on Mauer. If he and the Twins want to keep him as a primary catcher, first base is there to be filled. If it's deemed time to move him, first base is his most likely destination, and everybody else is out of luck.

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