The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Ed Thoma

September 2, 2012

Thoma: The Twins have two choices at first

— If at first you don’t succeed ... you probably have a big hole in the lineup.

The Twins enter this final month of a lost season with two viable options for first base in 2013.

There’s the veteran Justin Morneau, the former MVP who is bouncing back strongly in the second half from the injuries that wrecked essentially two years.

And there’s the unproven Chris Parmelee, who between stints rotting on the major league bench this year ravaged International League pitching.

A reasonable case can be made for going with either next year (and beyond). It’s a lot more difficult to see how the Twins can use both.

Morneau is 31, and while his overall numbers aren’t as impressive as in his 2006-mid 2010 heyday, they mask how well he has hit in the second half of the season.

For the year, his slash stats — batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage — are .271/.329/.466, all well below his career norms.

But he’s at .316/.356/.506 since the All-Star break. That’s production worthy of first base.

Morneau will be in the final year of his contract in 2013. His revival opens multiple options for the organization: Do you re-sign him? Do you trade him?

The risks are obvious. His concussion history will always be a concern. He’s on the wrong side of 30.

But he has shown in the second half that he’s still a dangerous hitter, and he is a superior defensive first baseman to Parmelee.

The Twins clearly had opportunities to trade Morneau this summer. Perhaps they didn’t like the offers and figured they might do better this winter; perhaps they’ve already decided they want to continue to have him as a roster cornerstone.

I would expect the Twins to test the waters on a contract extension early this offseason — at a lower cost than his current $14 million — and if that’s not forthcoming, look to trade him.

Parmelee is Morneau insurance. Keep Morneau, and Parmelee can be shopped around — his .338/.457/.645 slash line in Triple A should catch some eyes. If Morneau is traded, Parmelee is a logical successor to the first base job.

As matters stand, with Morneau, Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit splitting the first base/DH/catcher chores, there doesn’t figure to be regular playing time available for Parmelee.

And while Parmelee is likely to see some outfield time this month, the fact is that he’s better at first base than in right (and not all that good at first base).

The balancing act for the front office: How much will keeping Morneau cost? And who will fetch more in a trade, the veteran former MVP or the younger minor leaguer?

Fixing the rotation is job one, but figuring out who’s on first likely to be a part of that chore.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.

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