Warne: Twins have plenty to consider regarding Justin Morneau's future
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MINNEAPOLIS -- One storyline that will maintain relevance all season long for the Minnesota Twins is the impending free agent status of 11-year veteran Justin Morneau.
The six-year, $80 million deal Morneau signed in January 2008 comes to a close as the Canadian slugger will earn $14 million this season, as he has every season since 2010.
And it'd be hard to argue that the Twins got their money's worth.
It would certainly be unfair to look past the concussion, and the following period of recovery. There's no denying Morneau has done everything he could to get in and stay in shape between then and now. His work ethic has been nothing short of commendable, and that's well-documented back to his MVP season in 2006 when he'd show up well before his teammates to hit with Joe Vavra at the Metrodome.
But performance will largely dictate what happens with Morneau after this season, whether it's the Twins making him a competitive offer, or if the first baseman shops his wares on the free market.
And in a 'what-have-you-done-for-me-lately' league, Morneau's numbers don't really stand up.
Since returning from his concussion to start the 2011 season, Morneau has hit .261/.322/.401. If you write off his 2011 as a transitional year -- which seems completely fair -- he's still hit only .274/.336/.427.
For some reference, first basemen as a whole across the major leagues have hit .266/.340/.439 this season.
In other words, Morneau has been pretty much an average first baseman.
And if you take a peek at Fangraphs' WAR (wins above replacement), Morneau is 26th among 30 first baseman with a scant +0.4 WAR from 2011 to today (minimum 1000 PA). Again, if one throws out 2011 -- a negative WAR season for Justin -- Morneau is still just 14th out of 20 with +1.1 WAR (minimum 700 PA).
So a case could be made that Morneau has been average, if not slightly below-average.
And the onus will be on the Twins to decide what that's worth in a future deal, if the club decides to offer such a pact. It won't happen in-season, however.
The Twins definitely have a lot to consider when it comes to Morneau, who has planted roots in the area. One thing that will benefit all sides involved, according to Terry Ryan, is that Morneau is completely healthy.
"The fact that he's healthy is the best thing for the guy," Ryan said. "I feel good for the kid because he doesn't have to worry about health. He can go out and play the game, which he is doing. He's doing fine. Everybody is waiting for the power, but so is he. I suspect that will come. But he's driving in runs, and playing an excellent first base."
But other avenues worth considering include internal options -- both now and in future seasons -- such as Chris Parmelee or even if Miguel Sano slides down the defensive spectrum to first base. The Twins could even choose a more cost-effective measure -- a guaranteed fan-favorite -- and platoon someone like Chris Colabello with Parmelee.
Or the Twins could do what a lot of clubs do, and just pluck any old fielder and teach him first base. Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham could be candidates in that scenario. Look no further than the Brewers in that respect, as they've made Yuniesky Betancourt (an infielder) and currently-injured Corey Hart (an outfielder) into first basemen.
The Twins could also do the un-Twins thing, and look to the outside. In recent years, first base has become a position where middle-of-the-road free agents have been available on an almost yearly basis. This includes players like Carlos Pena and Mark Reynolds. Even the occasional reclamation project works, like the Rays have had with Casey Kotchman and now James Loney in recent seasons.
And there's no shortage of intrigue on the free agent market if the Twins do indeed take that route. Possibly interesting names joining Morneau on the free agent market include Hart, Reynolds, Loney, Mike Morse, Mike Napoli, Paul Konerko, Kendrys Morales, and countless other corner-types who could make the slide to first.
In essence, the Twins hold the power here. There's no need for the Twins to sign Morneau to an Adam Laroche-type contract -- two years, $24 million with $15 million mutual option for 2015 -- with so many options at their disposal.
It might even behoove Morneau to sign a one-year prove-it deal for his age-33 season if it means cashing in if and when he shows any sort of return to his pre-injury form.
But it's not a decision that either side is likely to take lightly, as both sides have plenty of equity in each other. It'll certainly be a situation to monitor as the summer heats up.