When the Twins placed Joe Mauer on waivers last August, we talked about the possibility of a trade almost in terms of a conspiracy theory. Because the Twins were never going to trade Joe. But when we found out earlier this week that Justin Morneau was placed on, and subsequently cleared waivers, that's a horse of a different color.
There were a few tenuous rumors surrounding Morneau at the July 31 trade deadline, but the same issues kept cropping up: Justin's performance, and Justin's contract. For the money a team would have to pony up, the production just hadn't been there. Now that he's jacked four homers in his last ten games and six already this month, of course the compass starts to swing in another direction.
As Twins fans we've seen Justin's up and downs this year. Sometimes he couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat, and at others we still see his eyes light up and we see his body tense just before he unloads on a poor baseball. But we've also seen him play day in and day out, which carries both pros and cons in terms of analyzing player performance. We can see the whole picture and we can put everything in context, but as a result we may miss how differently a player can look between two points in time.
Danny Knobler spoke to a scout who has seen Justin on the rare occasion:
The good news for the Twins, potentially, is that Morneau's numbers are much improved this month. And the numbers aren't lying, according to one scout who has seen the Twins recently.
"He's swinging the bat much better than he was," the scout said. "His body looks more lively, too."
Of course he's "swinging the bat better" - the results this month are speaking for themselves. Speaking in terms of how a body looks, however, is entirely anecdotal.
Perhaps the scout is speaking in terms of confidence. Baseball 101 involves not taking your struggles in one area of the game and carrying it over into another area - in Justin's case this would have been from the batter's box to first base - but we also know that scouts tend to value player attributes differently depending on how he's hitting. If a player is batting .200 and makes a couple of mistakes in the field he's considered a defensive liability, but if he's hitting .300 the exact same player with the exact same defensive capabilities is suddenly solid and reliable in the field.
Watching Morneau day in and day out it's difficult for me to say that his body language has changed or that he's any more or less "lively" now than he was four or five weeks ago, at least outside confidence in body language. So, do I necessarily believe the scout who says he's been more "lively"? I don't. I happen to think Justin has looked better and that he's been a more capable defender this year than he has been in years.
So whose anecdotes do you listen to - to the scout's, who has seen Morneau on possibly a bad day or a good day but could be more sensitive to a larger shift in a player's ability to field his position, or to the fan's, who has seen nearly the entire body of the player's work this season but may miss the daily incremental shifts in how a player might move or respond?
If the Twins do trade Morneau in the next two weeks, he'll go to a contender and he'll make them a better team. I'm certain of that. But as to whether he's actually moving better now than he was in July or even April - I have my doubts.