For the first time in several years, Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau has been able to enjoy an offseason free of concussion symptoms. ďI feel good. Iíve been able to do everything I want to do. I feel strong. Itís a good feeling. I can use the clichť of Ďbest Iíve ever feltí or ĎBest shape of my life.í I feel good. I have been able to do everything Iíve done in the past to help me prepare for the season.Ē
Thatís the kind of news that Twins fans should be excited to hear. His season came to an end a few games early because of the recurring wrist issues he was having last season. ďI started swinging after New Yearís, but I started working out, building up the strength gradually. I took about five weeks off.Ē
Morneau won the AL Most Valuable Player Award in 2006 when, as a 25-year-old, he hit .321/.375/.559 (.934) with 37 doubles, 34 homers and 130 RBI. In 2008, he played in all 163 Twins games and hit .300/.374/.499 (.873) with 47 doubles, 23 homers and 129 RBI. He finished second to the Red Sox Dustin Pedroia in AL MVP voting.
In 2010, Morneau was hitting .345/.437/.618 (1.055 OPS) with 25 doubles, 18 homers and 56 RBI. Unfortunately on July 7, he suffered the concussion that cost him the rest of the season. Its side effects lasted throughout the 2011 season.
Following a healthy offseason, Twins fans may hope that Morneau can return to those same MVP-caliber levels, but does Morneau think that he can be that productive again?
ďI donít see why not. I mean, Iím not 38 or 39 or 40. Itís something that I expect. Iím still young enough to produce and produce the way I expect myself to. I donít feel like Iím too far off... I donít see why I canít get back to that point.Ē
In 2012, Morneau was able to play in 134 games and had 570 plate appearances, his most since 2008. He got off to a slow start in April, and then he really struggled in June after returning from the DL with the wrist injury. In July and August, he posted OPS of .848 and .850.
When asked whether he thought his season was a success, he replied, ďI donít know. What did we finish with, 96 losses or whatever? We finished last.Ē
When he was asked to discuss his personal success, he continued, ďIíve said it before, personal success doesnít matter if the team doesnít do well. I mean, Iím not ever happy just to play. Obviously getting out there is good, but you want to be successful. Itís a hard way to gauge it. Yes, Iím glad I got to play, but am I happy about the year? Definitely not. Itís one of those things. Itís good, but I expect more.Ē
With the Twins losing seasons and Morneauís contract, his name came up frequently in trade rumors last July as well as during the offseason. Does he think about trade talks and where he might be late in the season if the Twins season is not a success?
ďIím not going to look on the negative side of it. Iíd rather think that weíre adding players at the deadline at this point (rather) than trading anybody. So that stuff will be out of my control when it does come about. Whenever the deadline does come, it wonít really be up to me. So, hopefully we play well enough that weíre adding players and donít have to worry about that.Ē
One thing Morneau is looking forward to is the World Baseball Classic and being healthy enough to play for his native Canada. ďIt should be fun. Itís always good to get together with the Canadian boys. Itís a good time. Itís a different experience. (Also) gives us a little break from spring training, which will be good too.Ē
Team USA is in the same bracket and will play Canada. Could Glen Perkins be brought in to face Morneau? ďIf heís in the game, that means weíre either up or itís close, so heís in to face all nine left-handed hitters that we run up there.Ē (Morneau added that the Canadian team does have right-handed hitters Brett Lawrie and Russ Martin.)
Morneau is also excited to see what his Twins lineup can do this season.
ďWeíll be deep. Weíll have (Trevor) Plouffe at seventh or eighth or wherever heís hitting, and (Chris) Parmelee all year. Hopefully all the experience over the last couple of years will do him well. Left. Right. Left. Right. Pretty good balance, and power. Itíll be interesting to see, whoever is hitting leadoff, or if we move guys up in the order to not worry about the new 1-2 hitters. Thatís Gardyís job. I feel like we have a deep lineup with power. We have a chance, and thatís all you can ask for.Ē
Morneau is entering the final season of his six year, $80 million contract that he signed in January 2008. He and Michael Cuddyer had a joint press conference to announce their multi-year deals before Twins Fest that year. In his comments, it certainly appears that Morneau is not concerned heading into a contract year.
ďIím already pretty set in life. Iíve been through enough to know I love the game. I missed the game when I was away. I enjoy every day. Itís hard for me to look too far into the future. I try to take every day, every game and realize when something is taken away how much you miss it. That stuff will take care of itself. Itís out of my concern. My job is to play first base and help win games. The rest will happen when it happens.Ē
He understands the business side of the game as well. In his home, he has a picture of the 2006 Twins hanging. Recently, he was looking at it. ďItís amazing how many guys are still playing. When you win, it seems like you stick around for a while, like Cuddyer, (Matt) Guerrier, (Jesse) Crain and (Joe) Nathan and a bunch of guys. Pretty good turnover since then.Ē
ďHopefully we get back to winning and thatís really what weíre here for.Ē