The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 1, 2013

Thoma column:Twins traded Morneau's name


The Mankato Free Press

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What's in a name? In the case of Justin Morneau, a bench outfielder and, apparently, a bullpen lottery ticket.

That's what the Minnesota Twins got Saturday from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for the former MVP and franchise cornerstone — 28-year-old outfielder Alex Presley and a player to be named later, rumored to be minor league pitcher Duke Welker, also 28.

Morneau is more a name than a player now. His slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) since his career-altering 2010 concussion is a mere .256/.316/.412. The Twins would be delighted with that kind of production from Pedro Florimon, but it's not enough from a first baseman and cleanup hitter.

But there was some value to be extracted from Morneau's reputation. Presley isn't going to be a great player, but he can help.

He's a left-handed hitter, a center fielder who has hit pretty consistently in Triple A but hasn't the power to be a regular in an outfield corner and has been blocked in Pittsburgh by Andrew McCutchen, who is one of the best players in the National League.

The Pirates may not need a center fielder, but the Twins do, at least for a little while as Byron Buxton continues to marinate in the minors. Presley figures to be a step up from Clete Thomas as a place holder, and when Buxton is ready (or if Aaron Hicks gets his career trajectory straightened out) Presley can be a bench piece.

We should see plenty of Presley this month.

We should also see plenty of Chris Colabello at first base. The minor league vet's major league playing time has been sporadic because of Morneau's presence; Morneau's departure gives the Twins a month to see what Colabello can do with consistent at-bats.

As for Welker: He throws hard, his command is uncertain, and we're not even certain he's the second piece of the trade. I'll think about him when I know he's the guy.

As for Morneau: I said in the blog last week that I reckoned there's at least a 50 percent chance that he'll be the Twins first baseman in 2014. That still holds.

He's a free agent to be. If the Twins re-sign him (at a sharply lesser salary, to be sure), they'll have landed two minor pieces in exchange for a month of Morneau's services. And if they don't bring him back, at least they got something out of his departure.

As a sentimentalist and a fan, I'm not thrilled with the trade; I would have liked to see Morneau spend his entire career in a Twins uniform. That obviously won't happen.

As a realist, I embrace the deal. The view here has always been that 2013's decisions had to be made with 2014 and beyond as the priority. This trade does that.

Morneau wasn't, and isn't, likely to be a key figure on the next good Twins team. Nor is Presley, for that matter, but Presley fills an immediate purpose and might be a bit piece on that next good team.

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