Free Agency Looms On Justin Morneau's Potential Final Season With Minnesota Twins

By Thom Tsang
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Ten years is practically a lifetime when it comes to the careers of MLB players, and Justin Morneau has been a happy lifer with the Minnesota Twins since breaking into the league in 2003.

But life for Morneau could very well start anew at the end of the 2013 season, even if it’s not by his choice – the Twins long-time first baseman may not be retained by the team after the end of his six-year, $80 million contract.

You couldn’t blame the team for being cautious about it, though. The fact is that the former All-Star has not been the same player since a concussion wiped out what should have otherwise been a career-best season for Morneau.

He tried to come back in 2011, only to see a lost season mired by injuries that resulted in multiple surgeries, and that yielded his first negative fWAR (-0.3) season since he was a rookie who hit just .226. That’s not the results that he’d hope for in a comeback, but recovery from concussions is something that the sport is still learning about, and Morneau had to deal with those repercussions, on top of the various ailments to his body.

Onto the mulligan, then. Outside of a recurring wrist injury that sent him to the DL, Morneau had much better success staying on the field in 2012, but the performance at the plate (.267/.333/.440 triple-slash) left much to be desired.

There’s no mincing words around Morneau, not even with all the goodwill he’s earned within the Twin’s organization: this is a player on the wrong side of 30, who is coming off two of his worst seasons. For that alone, there is little reason for the Twins to take the risk in signing him to an extension now.

Morneau knows that, and while he’d like to continue to be a Twins lifer, he knows why they haven’t contacted him for an extension, and is ready to “let all that stuff play out” through 2013.

As contract-year athletes do, the B.C. native is saying all the right things about himself, pointing out that he’s coming into camp coming off a “normal” workout routine as opposed to the past couple of seasons, where he was bothered by one thing or another.

Whether that optimism can give him the desired on-field results is yet to be seen. 2012 was a first step as far as playing a full slate of games is concerned, but Morneau will have to be more than a .773 OPS, 0.9 fWAR player to be the type of game-changer that the Twins signed back in 2008.

In that sense, Morneau is not only playing for redemption from his health issues in 2013 – he could also be playing to maintain his place with the only major league team he has ever known.

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