Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Morneau and Progress

About a month from today, Jamey Carroll will turn 38 years old. That will make the veteran infielder, signed by the Twins earlier this offseason to man shortstop over the next couple seasons, the same age as former Minnesota third baseman Corey Koskie.

Of course, while Carroll is enjoying the best years of his pro baseball career, Koskie has been out of the game since 2006, when a concussion sustained in Milwaukee ended his days as a major-leaguer.

An athletic baseball player with a tremendous passion for the game, cut down in his prime by an injury that seemed totally harmless at the time, even to him. I brought up the unfortunate parallel between Koskie and Justin Morneau after the latter had been sidelined for a month by a concussion suffered in 2010, and unfortunately, little has happened since then to dispel such allusions.

In the weeks and months following Morneau's initial incident, Twins trainers repeatedly talked about the "progress" he was making toward getting back on the field. He never returned in 2010, but embarked on an offseason program designed to get him back into playing shape while protecting his head. Again, "progress" was the go-to buzzword in all Morneau updates.

The first baseman returned to the field for for 69 games last year, but was hardly the same player, and after re-triggering concussion symptoms on a fielding attempt in August, he was again shut down for the year. Now, Twins fans are left in the same state of limbo that they were a year ago, with the word "progress" once again being tossed around in the absence of any more substantive news.

At this point, the word has basically lost all meaning, but Twins officials can hardly be blamed for falling back on it. As was the case last winter, they don't know what Morneau's status truly is, or what to expect from him when he shows up in Ft. Myers next month.

That's very unfortunate. As Judd Zulgad wrote yesterday for ESPN 1500, the first baseman's situation is distinctly more worrisome than that of Joe Mauer, who by all accounts is feeling much stronger after a surgery-free offseason.

It seems likely that Mauer will be able to play at a high level this year, and even if his balky knee prevents him from catching full-time, the club has added a couple intriguing backup options at catcher in Ryan Doumit and J.R. Towles (a former outstanding prospect who's worth keeping an eye on).

But there's no one who can replace the value that a healthy Morneau provides, both on and off the field. Team insiders suggest that, with Michael Cuddyer gone, Morneau is the one player who can step in as a vocal clubhouse anchor, with the kind of fiery personality to rally the troops and avoid a catastrophe similar to last year.

If Morneau can't go, not only will the Twins lack a slugging first baseman capable of pounding 30 home runs with 100-plus RBI -- they'll also lack an obvious candidate to provide true leadership on this club, whatever you believe that's worth.

Certainly the league's award voters have recognized Morneau's value as stretching beyond his numbers. He won the AL MVP in 2006 with a questionable statistical case and placed second in 2008 with even lesser numbers, despite the Twins missing the playoffs.

Mauer might be the Twins' best player, but Morneau is a vital cog. His uncertain (at best) status going forward is probably the No. 1 overarching concern that surrounds this 2012 team.

For the sake of Twins fans – and him and his family more than anything – I hope his "progress" this offseason is a lot more meaningful than in past instances.

11 comments:

Carlos Ledezma said...

Indeed...

Anonymous said...

Nick, nice blog. The Carroll/Koskie comparison was really an eye-opener.
Morneau means a WHOLE lot to this club, so it makes sense he's given one more year to be productive. I'm hoping that "progress" really means PROGRESS going in to this year.

Young Man Duggan said...

Justin Mourneau has a fiery personality? Granted my exposure is limited to the FSN North Morneau special and interviews, but I literally laugh out loud when I read that...

Nick N. said...

Justin Mourneau has a fiery personality? Granted my exposure is limited to the FSN North Morneau special and interviews, but I literally laugh out loud when I read that...

Players can be a little different behind closed doors in the clubhouse. I heard that his wrist injury last year was sustained when he took a bat to a railing after a strikeout.

PK said...

Good post, Nick. I agree that Morneau is important for leadership on and off the field.

frightwig said...

Yeah, I think the health and productivity of BOTH Mauer and Morneau is practically essential to Twins hopes of being a +.500 team this year. Losing a productive Morneau is a big handicap, even putting the issue of his salary aside. Sadly, I no longer expect to see Morneau at his best ever again. If he can't really play this year, I wonder if he shouldn't do the club the favor of retiring.

Anonymous said...

Prince Fielder's still out there.

Järpen Fäviken said...

The M&M boys are at it again. Good post Nick.
Re Prince Fielder: With what budget?

Anonymous said...

Weren't Koskie and Morneau both goalies in hockey? I can't imagine anyone really questioning their ability to play if they could.

Anonymous said...

The leadership of the team seems to have been passed on to players with at least 5 or so years playing for the club and has stayed fairly healthy. Sure, Cuddyer has had his fair share of injuries but they do not amount to the loss for the club created by Morneau. When I see Morneau now in comparison to his MVP season, I see a man without passion. He is not outspoken like Mauer and seems be in hiding when it comes to his own status. I am sure people have made cases for Mauer to be the new team leader. Arguably, I can also see Pavano being a leader. Sadly, Mauer is somewhat prone to injury like Morneau. Pavano has potential but hasn't been able to find his groove during the second half of the season. From what I see as a fan, I don't think there will be an established leader in the ball club. Rather, leadership will be collectively shared. I can't wait to go to spring training and see the results of the offseason for the Twins, but I am anxious of the season to come.

Anonymous said...

Morneau is done. Sad but true. When all it takes to engender another concussion is a casual belly-flop for a grounder down the line, you're done. You can't be that fragile and last for more than a couple games at a time. Morneau won't play beyond June of this year, even as a full-time DH. Let's not kid ourselves anymore: His playing career is effectively over.