By Dan Cook
News broke this afternoon that Justin Morneau has been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for OF Alex Presley.
Morneau has spent 11 seasons in the big leagues, all with the Minnesota Twins.
He made his major league debut in June of 2003, hitting .226/.287/.377 with four home runs in 106 at-bats. His “popeye-like” forearms and prodigious power mesmerized Twins fans who hadn’t seen a true power-threat at first base since Kent Hrbek retired.
But it wasn’t until 2006 that he truly established himself amongst the Major League elite, hitting 34 home runs with a .321/.375/.559 slash line on his way to winning the AL MVP.
That same year was the start of a four-year stretch for Morneau with 30-plus home runs, and at least 100 RBI in each of those seasons. He was selected for four All-Star games, won the Silver Slugger award twice and in addition to his ’06 MVP award, he finished second in the balloting in 2008.
But then came July 7, 2010, and a what looked to be a routine break-up of a double-play at second base in Toronto. Routine, that is, until John McDonald’s knee collided with Morneau’s head. A play that proved to be a pivot-point in Justin’s career.
Morneau wouldn’t play another regular-season game until April of 2011. And it took him until May 1, 2011, to hit another home run.
Justin would only play 69 games in 2011 as a recurrence of concussion symptoms and a nagging wrist injury would keep him out from June 9 to Aug. 12 and eventually ended his season on Aug. 28.
He came back to play 134 games in 2012 and has played in 127 of the Twins 133 games here in 2013, but outside of brief hot-spells, has never truly regained the “power threat” status that he displayed in that four-year stretch from ’06 to ’10.
So the Twins had a decision to make. Morneau’s contract is up at the end of 2013, and while he and his representatives made multiple overtures to the Twins to try and negotiate an extension, Minnesota management showed no eagerness to go that route.
That led many to speculate that he’d be moved in a deal before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, and while GM Terry Ryan took calls regarding Morneau, he didn’t find a deal to his liking.
Then came news on Aug. 13 that Morneau had been placed on revocable waivers, allowing the Twins to again take the temperature of other teams’ interest in making a trade. A day later it was reported that Justin had cleared waivers – a bad sign for making any kind of significant deal.
Finally, on the last day that teams were allowed to trade players who’d been through the waiver process, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports broke the news that Morneau had been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for OF Alex Presley, cash and a player to be named later.
Presley owns a career slash-line of .261/.299/.389 and a career wOBA of .311 (Fangraphs calls .320 an “average” hitter). So the Twins aren’t getting a big stick in return. Defensively, Presley has a 1.6 career UZR, indicating that he’s an exceedingly average defender as well.
In other words, the best the Twins were able to get for a player who once seemed destined to be the second coming of Harmon Killebrew, was a replacement-level outfielder.
Certainly a disappointing outcome for a tenure that once looked headed for greatness.
But that may not be the end of the story for Morneau and the Twins. As was stated earlier, Morneau expressed several times his desire to remain in Minnesota. His wife is a native Minnesotan and Morneau has sunk deep roots into the community with lots of charity work including his annual “Casino Night.”
Nothing prevents the two sides from getting together in the off-season and agreeing to a new deal that would bring Morneau back to the Twins – albeit at a significantly reduced rate.
If Morneau has played his final game as a Twin, his story is one of unfulfilled potential. If the concussion symptoms and wrist ailments hadn’t derailed the run he was on, would we be talking about a multiple-time MVP and a player worthy of Hall of Fame consideration?
We’ll never know. Instead, Justin gets another crack at the post-season with the Pirates, and Twins fans are left to wonder what might have been.