The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 22, 2013

Thoma column:


The Mankato Free Press

---- — The average American League first baseman this year entered Sunday’s play with a slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) of .261/.336/.450.

Justin Morneau’s slash line is .276/.334/.409.

And therein lies the dilemma for the Twins less than two weeks from the trading deadline: Morneau, the former MVP and once one of the best first basemen in the game, is now below average at his position.

He’s 32. He’s a free agent at the end of the season.

He’s going to be traded. That’s almost a certainty. That the Twins won’t get much for him is even more of a certainty. There’s not much market for a slugger who doesn’t slug much.

The Twins are a team in transition. The years of building the lineup around Joe Mauer and Morneau are past; that worked well for a while, and then Morneau’s series of health problems — back, concussions, wrist — ate away at his playing time and his abilities.

You look at the lineup the Twins trotted out this weekend, and you won’t see many players who figure to be in their current positions when the team turns good again. Mauer at catcher, yes. Maybe Pedro Florimon at short. But the rest of the lineup figures to be out the door or shifted to other positions when the big wave of budding talent comes in.

There’s speculation in the metro media that the Twins might, having traded Morneau this summer, bring him back as a free-agent (and at a much lower contract; he gets $14 million a year now, and might get half that in a new deal).

Terry Ryan has done that kind of thing before. In 1995, Ryan traded Rick Aguilera to Boston for Frankie Rodriguez, then re-signed Aggie in the winter.

And I can see a case for Morneau as a place holder and clubhouse figure during the transition. But I doubt that’s in the cards.

I don’t know who the Twins will turn to at first base when he’s gone. Last week’s demotion of Chris Parmelee suggests that his status as heir apparent is at the very least in jeopardy, and Chris Colabello is already 29. Those are the best options at the higher levels of the system.

There’s talk of moving Trevor Plouffe to first base to make room for Miguel Sano. A few hitters in the lower levels might emerge as options down the road, but they won’t be a factor in 2014 or even 2015. Mauer might get moved there as he ages.

The era of Sano, Byron Buxton and Eddie Rosario is coming. Morneau hasn’t been productive enough to allow him to get in the way.

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