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If Morneau doesn’t come back, Mauer to first base for Twins?

[picappgallerysingle id="9443711"]There’s been a lot speculation about whether Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau will ever recover enough from his July 7th concussion to return to baseball. There’s also been a lot of speculation about the damage to Joe Mauer’s knees as a result of playing catcher. There’s a lot of concern that Mauer’s joints won’t be able to handle the rigors of catching without drastically shortening his major league baseball career.

First of all, let me just express how terrific I think Justin Morneau is. The Minnesota Twins is a baseball team undisputedly built around Morneau, and rightly so – the guy is an MVP, he was on track in 2010 to have a monstrous season, and he’s an all-around nice guy. I’d like nothing more than to have Morneau playing for the Twins into his forties.

However, Justin Morneau is also regularly injured – and often rather severely (broken back, anyone?). This latest concussion, one of several Morneau has sustained, has been particularly scary because it’s a head injury that has proven to be incredibly serious and unpredictable. In short, Morneau is a little fragile. Some guys get hurt more often and more severely than other players, and Morneau is one of those guys.

I think this offseason is going to be the time when Morneau decides whether it’s worth it for him to continue playing baseball, given the history and frequency of his injuries. And I think it’s quite possible that Morneau will pack it in and retire. While it would be sad, I wouldn’t blame him – he has a wife and two little kids to think about.

So, this concussion and the fact that Morneau can’t seem to rid himself of the after-effects just might be enough to cause Morneau to call it quits. And if Morneau doesn’t rejoin the Twins next season, the Twins have a hole at first base because Michael Cuddyer is greatly needed back in right field.

So, here’s a thought that’s been suggested by many, and I agree: why not put Joe Mauer and his iffy knees at first base?

Yes, Joe Mauer has been a terrific catcher for the Twins, but his hitting is far more important than his catching – I think everyone can agree on that (though Mauer needs to stop hitting two-out singles with no one on base and start hitting when his teammates actually are on base).

If Mauer continues to play catcher, his knees are going to fall apart. Mauer, much like Morneau, is a somewhat physically fragile baseball player. He wasn’t technically on the Twins’ DL in 2010, but Mauer played many games as a designated hitter due to nagging injuries and rested the last several games of the regular season after receiving a cortisone shot in his knee. Mauer’s fragility combined with playing catcher should definitely cause the Twins some concern.

The Twins are lucky, though, because they have a terrific back-up catcher in Drew Butera. The guy can’t hit (although he showed us in 2010 that he can deliver a perfect suicide squeeze bunt), but Butera’s a great catcher. And the Twins have a solid back-up catcher in Jose Morales, who can hit – and quite well. So, why not have Butera take over as catcher and put Mauer at first base? If Carl Pavano stays with the Twins, that’ll certainly make him happy.

Mauer is athletic enough that the Twins don’t need to waste him as a designated hitter, plus you want Mauer to play every game. The Twins could easily put Mauer at first base – or out in left field, and have Delmon Young DH (and release Jason Kubel). That could work, too. In fact, that could work even if Morneau returns.

The idea, anyway, is to save Mauer’s knees, because he’s much more valuable to the Twins for his hitting than Mauer is for his catching.

By the way, I have no hard facts to support the hypothesis that Justin Morneau isn’t going to return to the Twins, but in my heart I feel that Morneau won’t be back. And while I’m very sad about that possibility, it does open up some options for the Twins to move Joe Mauer out of the catcher position and into another spot that won’t take such a toll on Mauer’s body.

So, I say that if Justin Morneau doesn’t return to the Minnesota Twins, make Joe Mauer the first baseman. And if Morneau does return, move Mauer to left field. I’m not sure if the Twins would ever actually move Mauer from the catching position, but given Mauer’s injury history, it certainly is something the Twins should think about.