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Updated: December 27th, 2012 9:48pm
Justin Morneau is 'miles ahead' of where he was last offseason

Justin Morneau is 'miles ahead' of where he was last offseason

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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12/27/2012
Twins 1B Justin Morneau on his health and his future
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For the first time in at least three years, Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau is having a perfectly normal offseason.

No concussions. No surgeries. No serious ailments.

Just workouts and a clear mind, which, as Morneau said Thursday in an interview with 1500 ESPN, is "miles ahead of where I've been the last two years. ...

"I'm feeling good, feeling strong, building strength instead of just doing rehab like I've done the last two winters -- not recovering from surgery, but actually building toward the goal of getting strong and being ready for spring training and being ready early for that World Baseball Classic."

Morneau, a notoriously hard worker off the field, has spent the last three offseasons in gym rat's exile -- shaking off concussion symptoms, multiple surgeries and a back ailment that sidelined him down the stretch in 2009. Morneau's workouts the last two offseasons, specifically, were limited by rehab and doctors' restrictions.

This offseason Morneau is focused on adding weight -- he was 15-20 pounds lighter than he preferred by September -- and hitting spring training in full stride.

"There's a difference between being strong and lean, and just too lean," Morneau said.

Even though he came back and played a full season in 2012 -- sans two weeks on the disabled list with lingering wrist discomfort -- Morneau said he didn't feel like himself until halfway through the summer. And because he wasn't able to put in his full workload in the offseason, Morneau felt fatigued near the end. His numbers (.267/.333/.440, 19 home runs) weren't representative of his pre-injury days.

Playing in 134 games was a significant accomplishment, but Morneau said his lack of a full offseason workout program hindered him quite a bit on the field as the season progressed.

"You're going to take a test in school. You go in, you don't open the textbook, you're not going to do very good," Morneau said. "Or you go in and you browse through the textbook five minutes before the test, you might get a couple right. But when you actually spend that time and you're able to prepare the way you're supposed to prepare, it allows you to feel confident going in that you've done everything that you can do.

"Obviously it wasn't for lack of effort or lack of wanting to do the work, it was just not being able to. Everything this winter has been totally different -- no restrictions with the concussion stuff. I've been able to do everything I've wanted to do, and it's been a good feeling. I'm starting to get excited for the season, instead of feeling like I'm starting behind the 8-ball."

Morneau's words Thursday are a far cry from the ominous message he sent at the start of spring training, when the 31-year-old seemed somewhat resigned to a dim fate.

"I don't know if I'll be at full 100 percent go but I'm going to go out there and participant in everything," Morneau said on Feb. 24. "I'll take it day by day. I don't know how I'll feel tomorrow or a week from now but right now I feel good. I'll just go from here. There's not much else I can say."

He added, "I'm obviously not going to continue to mess around with this if it continues to be a problem. There comes a point where you can only torture yourself for so long. (Baseball) is something I love to do but you keep preparing and you keep being left out, that's something that nobody wants to go through."

Morneau was able to put the concussion issues behind him early on, and his surgically-repaired wrist stopped bothering him sometime in the middle of the season.

If Morneau remains healthy and rejuvenated, the Twins could benefit in two ways -- not only would they have a productive, middle-of-the-order bat to pair with Josh Willingham, but they'd also have a strong trade chip to use prior to the July 31 deadline.

The Twins have had discussions with several teams about Morneau dating back to last summer, but the injury history and his large contract (one year left at $14 million) have diminished his value. That perception can change if Morneau produces in April, May and June.

Morneau would prefer to stay in Minnesota.

"You try not to pay attention to it. Obviously you have a family to think of, where you'd move, but at the same time you have to go out there and play. Obviously I love playing in Minnesota. We've had success here, we've had some tough times, but it's where I grew up as a player, it's where I grew up as a person, and I've enjoyed my time. Hopefully it's not going to come to an end. Hopefully we turn things around and we're acquiring guys at the deadline instead of talking about trading guys, but there's always things that happen. ...

"Obviously it's not what I would like, but if there's opportunities to make this team better in the long run and the short run, then (Terry Ryan) has shown he's going to do that. Hopefully I'm not one of those guys. Hopefully I'm a piece they see that could be here a few more years. But it's going to depend on the health and going out there and proving it during spring training and during the season that it's worth keeping me around and worth putting me in the middle of that lineup and being productive."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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