Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Contemplating Justin Morneau

O Canada: Justin Morneau prepares
to unload on a pitch against Italy.
Justin Morneau went 7-for-11 in the World Baseball Classic, a .636 batting average. Team Canada went 1-2 in Pool D and is out of the tournament, but it was hardly Morneau's fault.

There is a growing expectation in Twins Territory that Morneau is finally ready to return to the levels of production he had in the mid-00s, before the various injuries — back, neck, wrist, concussion — either sapped his skills or knocked him out of the lineup completely.

Morneau hasn't had a good full season since 2008. But he came to camp looking better than last year, and he's been hammering all spring (the WBC stats aren't out of line with his Grapefruit League numbers).

This is the last year of his contract, and it appears that both he and the Twins organization thought it best this winter to let it stand.

It's understandable on both sides. Morneau's injuries have obviously lessened his bargaining power, which make this a bad time for him to seek a new contract; they have increased the risk for the team should it make a further long-term commitment to him.

Imagine, for the moment, that Morneau (who turns 32 in May) has a big year. Imagine, too, that Chris Parmelee establishes himself as a genuine quality major league hitter, and that Oswaldo Arcia tears up the high minors. That's the optimal situation for the Twins, and it's hardly out of the question — and it's hardly certain either.

If that's the case, the rise of Parmelee and Arcia gives the Twins useful options as they consider what part they want of Morneau's future. The Twins could ride out 2013 with Morneau and either re-sign him after the season or make a qualifying offer and collect a draft pick when he signs elsewhere. Or they could trade him in July and commit to Parmelee at first base and Arcia in right field.

All that, let me emphasize, is based on the "ifs" going the Twins' way with those three. They haven't had a lot of "ifs" turn out in their favor in recent seasons.

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