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Updated: September 18th, 2011 7:09pm
Mackey: Injuries to Span, Morneau make planning for 2012 difficult

Mackey: Injuries to Span, Morneau make planning for 2012 difficult

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Despite teams having the luxury in September to expand rosters, the Minnesota Twins -- due to barrages of injury and illness -- head to New York on Monday to play the Yankees with only 12 available position players.

Well, 13 if you count the hobbled Jason Kubel, who could be available to pinch hit as long as manager Ron Gardenhire can find a pinch runner.

Of those 12, two are strictly catchers (Drew Butera and Rene Rivera), and two have buckets next to their beds due to flu symptoms (Danny Valencia and Rene Tosoni).

When most teams would have trouble cramming a bloated September roster onto an airplane, the Twins are offering each player his own row on that charter to New York.

Injuries have clearly derailed the season, pacing the Twins (59-92) to their worst record since at least 1999, and perhaps since 1982.

But the biggest problem is that some of those injuries are already making it extremely difficult to plan for 2012 -- specifically the circumstances surrounding Denard Span and Justin Morneau.

It was announced Sunday that Morneau will undergo minor surgery to clean up his left knee and right foot. He will not play in the Twins' final 11 games this season -- a decision that was made based on his returning concussion symptoms, not the ailing extremities.

"The test results show that the impact test wasn't back to normal," said Morneau, who has missed 201 games over the past three seasons. "There's protocol to follow, and everything isn't regular yet. ... It's not right, I know that. The last time I tried to do something on the road trip, my body didn't react very well. It's out of my control. It's frustrating, and it's not a lot of fun."

Morneau added, "It's a lot more mild compared to last year, but there's still stuff there, so it's still of concern for the doctors and for myself. So it's one of those things where hopefully when the season's done I'll be able to shut it down mentally and just be able to take a normal amount of time off and be able to come back and go into my regular training routine and take the regular amount of swings in the offseason and do all the stuff I'm used to doing. Hopefully this doesn't delay that from starting."

Meanwhile, Span has been sidelined since Aug. 13, but he's hoping to play in at least a game or two before the end of the season. That said, Span's migraine and concussion symptoms have yet to completely subside, and there are no guarantees he'll be rid of those symptoms even if he plays sometime this week.

In other words, the Twins will enter the offseason with giant question marks above both Span and Morneau.

Not quantifiable question marks, such as, "How long will it take Kyle Gibson to rehab from Tommy John surgery?" Or, "What will Francisco Liriano need to do to strengthen his shoulder muscles?"

We're talking open-ended questions about two guys who can't shake head injuries.

And that makes it very difficult for the front office and manager to plan ahead.

"With both Denard and Morneau, they can both say, 'We had a great winter, I've got no issues,' that's great," Gardenhire said. "But once you start playing, and once a guy dives, or once a guy slides, are we all going to know? I don't know.

"That's the unknown, and that's kind of a scary thing to tell you the truth. We've seen it been so bad around here. I think our team is kind of seeing this more than any other team in baseball. I mean, we've had two guys with the same thing, and it's been rough."

Making matters more complicated is the fact that outfielders Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer are both set to become free agents after the season. Both will sign multi-year contracts, and both will command fairly hefty salaries -- Cuddyer likely more than Kubel.

If Span was fully healthy, it's likely the Twins would pair him with Revere and build the outfield around speed. But does Span's questionable status heading into the offseason force the team to lean toward retaining both Kubel and Cuddyer?

And what if Morneau is unable to return to every-day first baseman duties? If he's forced to move to designated hitter, does that mean Kubel is the odd-man out?

"It's just the unknown," Gardenhire said. "I was hoping going in we'd have a little better idea of (Morneau) maybe getting on the field and taking a few swings here. Didn't work out, hasn't worked out. So I won't have any answers until we get to spring training. I won't.

"There's not a lot of contact during the winter. Our club will stay in contact with (them), obviously. My trainers do, and they send out reports. ... But we don't have the staff to send somebody around every player and follow them along all winter. It doesn't work that way. Hopefully we'll get to spring training and it'll be a go."

Gardenhire has expressed his frustration with the chaotic nature of this year's spring training, with Morneau, Joe Mauer and others playing and practicing on doctor's schedules, rather than team schedules -- probably a necessary but bothersome process based on their ailments.

Not to mention, a handful of players spent nearly the entire spring just trying to get healthy, rather than already being healthy and using spring to ramp up for the regular season.

"Michael Cuddyer had the thing on his foot and we basically waited; he came to spring training and had it cut out during spring training," Gardenhire said. "Delmon came in with turf toe. Those are all the things I hope we get done before spring training and we don't have to deal with during spring training."

Concussion symptoms don't fall into that same category. Concussion symptoms act on their own schedule, making planning "impossible to do," as Gardenhire put it.

"It's impossible to sit there... I just talked about it with the trainers," the manager added. "I don't want to go to spring training again having a doctor write out the whole schedule for a player. I may not have any control over that, but I would like to be able to do the scheduling myself and control how much playing time and get these guys on the field myself, knowing what it takes to be ready for spring training. I don't want to have to have this guy's list over here, this guys list over here and then how I'm going over here in the middle and trying to work it all out like last year. That's a miserable thing and it didn't work.

"How we're going to do that? I don't have an answer for you. I really don't have an answer for you. If they don't get out on the field here, how do I know what's going to happen over the course of the winter?"

Anybody?

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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