When the Minnesota Twins traded Denard Span to the Washington Nationals for top pitching prospect Alex Meyer, they definitely dealt their best offseason trade chip. However, that doesn’t mean the Twins don’t have players other teams would like to have on their own rosters. One player whose name has been tossed around, not only heading into this offseason but also before trade deadlines in recent years, is Twins’ All-Star, MVP first baseman, fan favorite Justin Morneau.
Morneau, like Span, was drafted by the Twins and has only played in the Twins organization. But, the 31 year-old first baseman is set to make $14 million in 2013, and the Twins could benefit from additional cash to offer free agent pitchers. Morneau also isn’t the only player on the roster who can cover first base. In October, I predicted that Span was the odd man out on the team. Everybody and their mother expected that Span would be traded this offseason, so that prediction is nothing to write home about. I did, however, get to that conclusion based on the Twins’ excess of first basemen. With the team desperately needing to put Chris Parmelee‘s bat in the lineup, the best shot was either at first base or in the outfield. I expected a Span trade and Parmelee moving to regular play in right field.
If Parmelee plays primarily in the outfield, the remaining first base alternative to Morneau is Joe Mauer, at least among those already on the 40-man roster. Mauer caught 74 games last season, and he has consistently been adamant that he is on the team primarily as a catcher. And while he will almost certainly see some time at first base in 2013, the organization hasn’t indicated that they plan to make Mauer their primary first baseman. So, Morneau is going to be dealt to make room at first for the Hometown Hero.
Morneau’s health is also a concern to the Twins and to any other team that might want an MVP first baseman on their roster. In recent years, Morneau has dealt with significant health issues, including a broken back, a concussion and recurring concussion-like symptoms, and a wrist injury. While he bounced back to play in 134 games in 2012, he only played in 81 games in 2010 and 69 in 2011, and his 2012 power numbers never returned to their previous formidable levels. At this point, the Twins would have to sell low on Morneau because of his recent uncertain health, and there is no point in dealing Morneau if the team can’t recoup in current players or prospects the majority of the $14 million salary.
It is possible that the Twins could be creating a backup plan for either a Morneau trade or injury recurrance; the team recently signed Jeff Clement (first base and catcher) to a minor league deal. However, while Clement was once considered a top prospect, so far he hasn’t achieved major league success. At the age of 29, he could be a bust, or he could be a successful Terry Ryan Antiques Roadshow hidden treasure. He needs some time in the Twins minor league system before the team determines if they can count on a refurbished Clement who can be successful at the major league level.
My hunch is that Morneau is a Twin until shortly before the 2013 non-waiver trade deadline. If he has success and health during the first half of the season, Morneau will go to a contending team for a decent prospect or two. If he’s struggled with health or with play, the Twins will dump Morneau and his remaining salary for peanuts in return in order to save a little cash against the 2014 budget.