A difficult decision is on the horizon for Minnesota Twins General Manager Terry Ryan: What to do with Justin Morneau. Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP has shown that, when healthy, he can be one of the best players in the league. In 2008, Morneau’s last ‘healthy’ year he played in all 163 of the Twins’ regular season games and batted .300 with 23 home runs and 129 RBI. However, since 2008 the slugger has been riddled with back and wrist injuries and concussion symptoms that don’t seem to go away.
Morneau did bounce back in 2012. He played 134 games but posed modest numbers, batting .267 and knocking in 77 RBI. And while many teams would be happy with that sort of production, his $15 million/year salary runs a little steep.
Therein lies the problem. At 31, it should be assumed that the slugger still can be a productive big-league first baseman. There’s also reason to believe that if he can get healthy he can return to form as a legitimate power threat in the middle of a contender’s lineup, but it isn’t out of the question to assume Morneau’s best days are behind him.
What is a GM to do? If their off-season moves are a sign of their approach to 2013, the Twins are not planning on contending. Ryan would love to trade Morneau for some prospects that can help the club in 2014, but the problem is he’s not likely to get said prospect.
With Morneau’s hefty contract and middling numbers, it’s unlikely a contender would part with a decent minor league player for the first basemen. And the last thing a Twins fan wants to see right now is one of their beloved, core players traded for anything but a high-end prospect.
With all of this in mind, the Twins have three options:
– Clean their hands of Morneau. Trade him for whatever they can get.
– Hope he gets off to a hot start and trade him midseason to a contender at a high value.
– Re-sign him to a more modest contract, hope he regains his MVP Swagger, and use him as core, veteran player moving forward.
Option one is the safest bet but will also surely upset a fan base whose patience is running thin. Option two is risky. If Morneau starts off slow or re-injures himself, his trade value will be practically nothing. Three would obviously be great but it counts on Morneau becoming the star he once was. If that doesn’t happen, an aging, concussed corner infielder is not a recipe for rebuilding. And, may in fact, perpetuate the problem the Twins are already in.
It will be interesting to see how Ryan acts moving forward. The shrewd GM usually makes the right decision for the club, even when the decision is unpopular. I’m glad it’s not my high-risk, high-reward decision to make.