With every free agent not named Kyle Lohse pretty much settled in with his new team, transaction attention has shifted toward contract extensions for players and teams wanting to avoid free agency after the 2013 season. One player who has found himself in the news wires over the past week or so is Twins first baseman Justin Morneau. Morneau has been very open about wanting to remain in Minnesota, the team he has spent his entire career with. But should the retooling Twins even consider keeping him around?
Morneau was a top prospect in the Twins organization after being selected in the third round of the 1999 amateur draft. He took home the 2006 American League MVP and was on track for a banner career before various injuries (notably a severe concussion) derailed him, and he hasn’t ever been the same hitter since. Up through the point in 2010 at which Morneau suffered his injury, he was having a career season. The first baseman was hitting .345/.437/.618 with 18 homers in 348 PA, and he was showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, Morneau was a career .286/.358/.511 hitter up to that point, and it really looked as if his approach would enable even better performance.
Unfortunately, Morneau suffered a head injury in 2010, and ever since his bat has gone missing. Morneau managed only a .618 OPS in 288 PA in 2011, but things did improve a bit in 2012. Morneau hit .267/.333/.440 with 19 homers in a mostly full season, showing that some of the tools that briefly made him a star were still there. But does Morneau’s previous success and slight rejuvenation give the Twins cause to celebrate?
Morneau did get a bit better past the All-Star break last season, so he appears to be steadily (albeit slowly) gaining momentum toward once again becoming a quality hitter. The big difference after the break last season for Morneau was simply a few singles; his power numbers stayed steady and his walk rate didn’t spike. Morneau may have logged a .793 OPS in the second half to better the .752 OPS he put up in the first half, but there isn’t much evidence to suggest there was a real reason for it.
I know Morneau has discussed extensions publicly when asked about it by the media, but a deal just doesn’t seem likely to get done. The Canadian ex-slugger endeared himself to Twins fans just as Joe Mauer did, but things just haven’t worked out favorably. Now 31 years old, it looks like Morneau will be moving elsewhere once the 2013 season is completed, and no one can really be blamed for that.
The only thing that could turn this ship around now would be a vintage Morneau campaign right when he needs it most, and I think that’s something we’d all like to see. The guy has been through enough, and a monstrous season may be the only way he has a shot at staying with the team that drafted him. Otherwise the Twins and Morneau will likely have to part ways after the season, and if that happens, I think we’ll all still be rooting for him to have a better future.