I’m back as I promised this morning to tackle question #3. As an added bonus I’m going to cover question #4 since the former leads into the latter. If you missed the background and my responses to the first two questions you can catch up by clicking here and here.
Here in Kansas City is it still snowing and schools have started closing. I fear my Friday will become another snow day with my kids. If that happens it will be 6 days in the last 4 or 5 weeks. Opening Day can’t get here fast enough.
Will Morneau be healthy?
This is a tough – if not impossible – question to answer. First and foremost is the recovery and road back from the concussion he suffered on July 7th, 2010 in Toronto. Looking at the question from that angle, I’m optimistic that Justin Morneau will be ready on Opening Day or shortly thereafter, but he’s travelling an uncommon path in professional baseball and there is really no script to follow. Knowledge of concussions, and both their immediate and lasting effects, is still woefully lacking. Those effects also, in some ways, seem to be unique to each injury and each individual.
Specific to Morneau’s case, he has faced live pitching the last several days and has been participating in all baseball activities. The next hurdle will be to see how he handles playing in some games. On a somewhat related note, I am very proud to be a Twins fan based on how the organization has handled Justin’s recovery and in how they have stood by and supported him. I hope both sides remain patient and take their time to ensure that there aren’t any setbacks or relapses.
Outside of the concussion issue, Morneau is no stranger to injuries but they typically have not kept him out of the lineup. From 2006-2008 he averaged 159 games per season. In 2005 he played in 141 and in 2009 he played in 135.
Based on his general toughness and track record I think Morneau can be counted on to stay healthy if he recovers fully from his concussion symptoms. While I believe the Twins can win the AL Central without him, he is an elite level bat and is essentially irreplaceable. The Twins on both offense and defense are a different team when he is in the lineup.
If not, can Cuddyer and Kubel step up to the extent they did last year?
There is no doubt that Michael Cuddyer and, to a lesser exent, Jason Kubel put in a yeoman’s effort trying to minimize the effects of Morneau’s absence. I don’t want to cast a pallor on that fact in the least. They stepped up to cover for their teammate and help push the Twins into the playoffs.
However, neither player was at his best last season.
Jason Kubel’s 0.249/0.323/0.427 slash stats were at their lowest across the board since his 2006 season. His 0.750 OPS was 0.048 points off his career mark. Additionally he was way off from his career 2009 season when he hit 0.300/.369/.539.
Is it reasonable to expect Kubel to cast off the results of 2010 and return to his 2009 level of production? Absolutely not, but he’s a good bet in my mind to hit much closer to his 0.271/.335/.463 career line than he is to replicate his output from last year.
Like Kubel, Cuddyer’s production fell short of the 0.276/.342/.520 line he produced in 2009. For Cuddy his 0.271 BA and 0.336 OBP last season were actually close to his 2009 and his career numbers in both those categories. His drop off was almost entirely tied up in his SLG which plummeted to 0.417 last season. That’s a significant decline from his 2009 SLG of 0.520 – which was a career high – but it also fell short of his career 0.450 SLG.
As for Cuddyer, he will turn 32 just before Opening Day and is almost 3 years older than Kubel. I expect he will bounce back in 2011, but his odds aren’t nearly as good as Jason’s who, in addition to his youth, has been more consistent over the course of the last several seasons.
So if Morneau misses a chunk of the 2011 season, can Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel step up to the extent they did last year?
Again this is not to minimize the efforts they turned in last season, but it wouldn’t take much on the offensive side of things. As you can see from the above, both of their 2010 seasons fell short of their 2009 and career levels of production. Obviously the transition from the Metrodome to Target Field played some role in their declines, but some of that should be mitigated now that they’ve had a season to get acclimated to their new digs. The organization also removed the trees from CF. An adjustment that Cuddyer supported very vocally.
Beyond their work at the plate, both players are professionals who play hard and do everything they can to help the team win. I don’t expect that aspect of their respective games to change anytime soon.