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Updated: September 1st, 2013 11:03am
Mackey: What’s the plan at 1B going forward? Signs point to more Mauer

Mackey: What’s the plan at 1B going forward? Signs point to more Mauer

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

Justin Morneau certainly hasn't been the same player over the past three years that he was prior to the 2010 concussion. But he does have nine home runs in August, and only three players in Minnesota Twins history have hit more home runs in their careers.

The void to fill at first base isn't nearly as large as it would have been had Morneau departed in, say, 2010, but it is a significant void, especially when considering the uninspiring short-term replacement options.

If the Twins truly had interest in bringing back Morneau beyond 2013 - he'll be 33 in May - they probably would have pushed for a contract extension this summer. Morneau will become a free agent in November, so it's certainly possible conversations could rekindle this offseason.

To that notion, Ron Gardenhire said on his Sunday morning radio show, "I would never say never to anything, the way he likes playing here and all those things. This is a time where he's going to be a free agent, he's earned that right, and I think it should be wide open. And I'll let Terry (Ryan) know that."

The Twins could still bring back Morneau for much less than $14 million per year on a one- or two-year deal.

But in reality, even with his recent resurgence, Morneau still ranks 20th among first basemen in slugging percentage, 22nd in on-base percentage, 18th in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and 14th in home runs. By just about any measure, Morneau is, at-best, a slightly-below-league-average first baseman. And his prime years are behind him.

In the short-term, Gardenhire said the Twins will rotate several bodies at first base, including Chris Colabello, Chris Parmelee (assuming he gets a September call-up), Joe Mauer (assuming he comes back from the concussion) and even Trevor Plouffe, who Gardenhire said could slight over from third base.

Moving Plouffe from third to first serves two purposes: 1.) It helps clear the way for Miguel Sano, who is the third baseman of the future, perhaps starting as soon as April, and 2.) It almost automatically improves the Twins' hot-corner defense. Plouffe is rated as one of the worst defensive third basemen in the league by just about any metric or measurement.

Of course, Plouffe's career batting line of .232/.294/.411 in 1,240 plate appearances doesn't fit well at first base. Or, really, anywhere.

Parmelee, who turns 26 next spring, doesn't appear to be anything more than a league-average first baseman - and that's if the light bulb turns on. Colabello, 29, looks to be a Triple-A masher and MLB bench bat.

Mauer is the key cog here. Before the concussion, Mauer was on pace to catch around 100 games, but it's hard to imagine him ever reaching that number in a season again going forward. He just turned 30, has recently dealt with knee and now concussion issues, and catchers' offensive numbers generally drop off the planet after age 31.

In fact, over the past 70 years, only three qualified catchers batted over .300 from age 31 through retirement (Brian Harper was one). Mauer might be the exception, but at what cost? Three years knocked off the end of his career? An extra 20-30 points off his batting average and/or on-base percentage due to taking such a beating?

"It's something that we're all going to sit back and talk about, and just listening to Joe's conversations, his number one goal is to get back and catch this year," Gardenhire said Sunday on 1500 ESPN. "No way does he believe he's done for the year. ...

"We've seen what happens to some players (after concussions), and it affects everybody different. As far as long term goes, always our goal is to keep this guy on the field. We're a better team when (Joe) is on the field."

For what it's worth, Mauer's .880 OPS this season would rank fifth among first basemen. And his glove would surely rank among the top five or 10 as well. 

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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