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Updated: July 30th, 2013 3:29pm
Zulgad: Twins, Justin Morneau should come to reasonable solution

Zulgad: Twins, Justin Morneau should come to reasonable solution

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The Minnesota Twins find themselves in an unfavorable predicament when it comes to Justin Morneau.

The 2006 American League MVP is in the final season of his contract, has seen his power production disappear, has had a putrid month of July and seemingly is a player the Twins would like to move for a prospect(s) before the trade deadline hits at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

The Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates are believed to be interested in Morneau. However, given his struggles it's not certain how much those teams might be offering or what they will be looking for the Twins to pick up when it comes to the $4.6 million Morneau has remaining on his $14 million contract for this year.

So what will Twins general manager Terry Ryan do with a guy who is hitting .180 with four home runs and five RBIs this month?

Ryan could take what he can get for Morneau, agree to pay off a large portion of the first baseman's contract and obtain a better prospect by doing so, or he could hold onto Morneau and let him walk away this offseason.

The problem is the Twins are all but assured of getting nothing in return for Morneau if he becomes a free agent because there is no way the team is going to make the $13.8 million qualifying offer that would be required to receive a compensatory draft pick.

Morneau and his agent likely would accept that deal in record time and, given his numbers this season, he would be an overpaid drain on the 2014 payroll.

But there is one late option the Twins could explore that would keep Morneau around and could actually work for both sides.

The Morneau camp reportedly has approached the Twins on a couple occasions this season about a contract extension. The Twins haven't been interested.

They might want to change their tune in the coming hours.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Monday likely starting points for Morneau's next contact are New York Yankees designated hitter Travis Hafner -- $2 million base with another $4 million in incentives - and Tampa Bay Rays first baseman James Loney -- $2 million with $1 million in potential incentives.

Another big-league executive told the paper that the three-year, $21 million Josh Willingham signed with the Twins before the 2012 season would be another "fair comparable."

If Morneau really wants to stay in Minnesota, and assuming he's wise enough to realize his production no longer makes him anything close to a hot commodity, the Twins could approach Morneau with a two-year offer that has a modest base salary but is filled with incentives.

Morneau stands to become a 10-5 player next season - he will have spent 10 years in the big leagues and five with the Twins -- giving him the right to veto any trade the Twins might attempt to make involving him.

This might have to be worked around. But one has to believe that if the Twins continue to struggle in 2014, and Morneau's offensive production picks up, he would be agreeable to move on.

As it is, Morneau reportedly has a list of six teams to which he can't be dealt.

Why would it make sense for the Twins to keep Morneau and hope he can find his power while playing for a reasonable price?

It's simple.

If Morneau isn't the Twins' Opening Day first baseman next season, who is?

Chris Parmelee was thought to be that guy but he was sent to Triple-A Rochester before the All-Star break and it was clear the Twins were frustrated by his lack of progress at the plate.

Trevor Plouffe's name has been mentioned, but that probably only would be the case if Miguel Sano is ready to make the jump to Target Field. And it isn't as if Plouffe is a sure thing.

Morneau, meanwhile, will turn 33 next May and while he certainly is no longer an MVP caliber player, he is well respected in the clubhouse and had displayed some offense, although not power, before July.

Morneau hit .281 with four home runs and 48 RBI in the first three months of this season and still leads the Twins with 53 RBIs.

The stats say Morneau isn't deserving of a big pay day, he's coming off a six-year, $80 million deal signed in January 2008, but if both the Twins and Morneau want to be reasonable about this there is no reason he can't continue to hold a corner locker spot at Target Field. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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