We've known the score with Justin Morneau for a while. Concussions are a serious issue. While he returned for stints of games in 2011, the Morneau we've grown to know and love was never truly present. A cascade of injuries across his body took their toll on top of the post-concussion symptoms, sapping his pitch recognition and timing. We saw the fallout: walk rates plummeted, power was sapped, and one of the league's most complete first baseman who could turn on any pitch couldn't touch much besides a changeup.
We all want Morneau to recover fully. Not just because he's such an integral part of whatever success the Twins will have, but because we also care about him as a person.
Unfortunately, it sounds like he's still struggling.
If you can't watch the entire video, here's the important (and somewhat disconcerting) portion of Justin's conversation with Kevin Millar.
"Most days, I wake up I feel pretty good. Usually after I get done—I really exert myself, really working out hard—after a long day, your brain gets tired and everything gets so worn down. It's not functioning the way it's supposed to be, and you kind of get done with the day and you go, 'Something's not right.' And you end up going home and taking a nap for a couple hours or whatever it is, and you wake up and the headache's still there and you kind of grind through it. But it's been a lot better lately.
"Making the eyes work, trying to reset the brain a little bit. You get hit, and the brain gets knocked off a little bit, you feel like you're half a second off. It's not registering properly. When you're trying to hit, it almost makes it impossible to hit. You feel like the ball's behind you by the time you recognize the pitches."
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I don't believe there was ever a point over the off-season where it was in question whether Morneau would attempt to play in 2012. He loves the game, he loves the Twins and he's working exceptionally hard at doing everything he can do to get on the field and be productive.
That doesn't mean there wasn't a window of time where the Twins, or Justin, could have gone in another direction. That time has now passed. For better or for worse, Justin and the Twins have committed to each other.
I like the idea of signing Derrek Lee or Carlos Pena as fallback options at first base, but with the decision to go with Morneau, those players are out. Instead, after the departure of Michael Cuddyer, the contingency plan for Morneau (and for first base) will rest somewhat with Luke Hughes and Joe Mauer. Trevor Plouffe could be in the mix; he played an inning at first last season and, in spite of public announcements that he's an outfielder, will see time at multiple positions to give his bat as many chances as possible. Ryan Doumit will get time there when he isn't catching.
But in the scenario where Morneau gets moved from first base (whether that means to designated hitter or off the field), Minnesota's contingency plan rests with the soon-to-be 24-year old Chris Parmelee. It's fine if Morneau just needs a day or two a week away from first base, which would be a good idea anyway, but in the situation where the team needs a first baseman everyday Parmelee is the only good answer.
In closing, roster construction and managing all of the variables involved is a big part of the front office's job. Terry Ryan, Rob Antony and the rest all understand perfectly well the risks that come with Morneau this season. All of which means we can deduce one of three things.
- The front office doesn't see depth at first base as an issue, regardless of Morneau. (Not likely.)
- The front office fully believes in Justin Morneau, and in his ability to come back and play. (They have to know the level of risk.)
- The front office fully believes that, if the time comes, giving the position to Chris Parmelee full time is better than throwing a couple million at a free agent.
The only remaining option, regardless of how improbable, must be true. I'm paraphrasing Sherlock Holmes here, but is there another deduction to be made that I've missed?