Mackey: It probably makes sense for the Twins to trade Justin Morneau
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Considering his rich injury history over the past three seasons, 2012 has been a successful year for Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau.
The former American League MVP was hitting .253/.315/.438 on the season with 19 doubles and 11 home runs through his first three at-bats Wednesday, and most of his time since April has been spent at first base, despite his trepidation during spring training.
Morneau, 31, has shown enough pop in recent weeks to generate interest from other teams as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this week that the Dodgers had interest in Morneau. The Pittsburgh Pirates were also reportedly looking for a middle-of-the-order bat, so it's no coincidence they had a scout in attendance at Target Field last week.
Under the right circumstances, it probably is time for the Twins to pull the trigger.
One source said Wendesday the Dodgers' new ownership group "has a lot of money and doesn't mind spending it," especially with a new TV deal that will bring in more than $200 million in revenue per season -- and they proved their willingness to expand payroll by taking on the entire contract of Hanley Ramirez ($15m per year through 2014) in a deal with the Miami Marlins.
The Dodgers' current level of interest in Morneau is unknown after they just landed Ramirez, but if they -- or another team -- is willing to pick up all of, or a large chunk of Morneau's contract ($5m the rest of this year, $15m next year), the Twins should strongly consider pulling the trigger.
With Carl Pavano ($8.5 million), Scott Baker ($6.5m), Jason Marquis ($3m), Francisco Liriano ($5.5m) and Matt Capps ($4.5m) all potentially coming off the books -- and perhaps Alexi Casilla ($1.3m), who could be non-tendered -- the Twins are committed to approximately $74.8 million in payroll for 2013.
Assuming the team payroll will likely once again be no higher than $95 to $100 million, that leaves $20 to $25 million to help fix a starting rotation that owns a collective ERA just south of 6.00 after Nick Blackburn's clunker on Wednesday.
Even if the Twins could clear out $10 or $15 million of the $20 million owed to Morneau through the end of next season, that would provide general manager Terry Ryan with a larger bankroll to go after starting pitching.
Chris Parmelee, who entered Wednesday hitting .303/.448/.505 in 29 games for Triple-A Rochester, could take over as the starting first baseman next year at a salary of $500,000.
But the Twins -- operating with a TV revenue stream that brings in nowhere near the same money as many of their competitors -- do not have unlimited payroll resources. And this offseason they must rebuild a rotation that, right now, probably includes only Scott Diamond and Liam Hendriks. Maybe Kyle Gibson.
Other trade deadline notes
• According to league sources, the Twins -- and other teams -- are having trouble getting teams to meet their asking prices for impending free agents such as Liriano because the new CBA rules have taken away leverage.
Any team that acquires Liriano will be unable to collect draft-pick compensation should he sign somewhere else this offseason. Under the new CBA, only the Twins would be able to offer Liriano the required one-year, $12.4 million deal to become eligible for a first-round compensation pick.
It also doesn't help that the "bad" Liriano showed up in Chicago this week to get shelled.
• Ryan Dempster has reportedly told the Chicago Cubs he doesn't want to be traded to the Atlanta Braves. He prefers the Dodgers instead. The Braves will reportedly turn away from the Dempster deal that was agreed upon and turn their attention to a new target.
That new target could be Liriano. The Braves were scouting him closely at Target Field earlier this month.
• According to a source, the Dodgers remain fixated on Dempster. Only if that pursuit dies would the Dodgers turn full attention to Liriano.
• The Twins have done due diligence on Miami Marlins ace Josh Johnson, who has been made available recently. But Johnson, coming off shoulder issues, is owed over $13 million next season, and the Marlins are said to be asking for a lot in return. One source said the Marlins would want the equivalent of prospects obtained in trades for Denard Span and Liriano in return for Johnson.
The Twins would never consider it.