Return of the Slugger

2012 marked Justin Morneau‘s first full season since 2009, after concussions and other injuries cut his 2010 and 2011 seasons in half.  Outside of a two-week period at the beginning of May, Morneau came back to be an everyday staple in the middle of the Twins order.  He began the season under the impression that he would be the full-time DH for the first half of 2012 at the very least, but by April 16th in New York he had enough.

Entering 2013 Morneau finally has a normal off-season to do his regular workouts and prepare with confidence that he will play every day again.  This will be the first time since before the 2010 season that questions about his health are relatively minimal.  The question this off-season revolves around his contract status and whether this season will be his last as a Twin.  Morneau is set to make $14M in 2013, and become a free agent after the season.  There’s speculation that he could become trade bait come July if the Central Division is out of reach by that time.

After his stint on the DL due to a wrist injury in 2012, he was given a clean bill of health on May 16th and DH’d only 18 more games the rest of the season compared to 95 starts at 1B.  Before heading to the DL, he hit .230 with 4 homers and only 9 RBI’s in 20 April starts.  After his return he hit .274 with 15 home runs and 68 RBI’s in 114 games.

On June 27th Morneau started what became a 14 game hitting streak.  Beginning that day through the end of August, he hit .320 with 7 home runs, before cooling off in September hitting only .236 the rest of the way.  He hit only 2 bombs in the last month, both coming September 9th against Cleveland   Of course, one of those came off Vinnie Pestano in walk-off fashion.

The big Canadian finished the season hitting just .267 with 19 home runs and 77 RBI’s, after wearing down in September.  Compared to the stretch between 2005-2009 when he hit a combined .283 and averaged 28 home runs and 110 RBI’s, this wasn’t too much to get excited about.  However, in light of the previous two seasons, Morneau could be due for another breakout season in 2013 after a full off-season of workouts.

Coming off a season when Josh Willingham hit a career-high 35 home runs and drove in 110, a healthy and consistent Morneau would provide superior protection for the former in the lineup.  Willingham also set a career-high for walks last season with 76, and you have to think that there would be less pitching around him with a feared hitter like Morneau hitting fifth every day.

What do you think?  If Justin Morneau returns to his old form in 2013, do you trade him for future assets?  Do you keep him for the remainder of the season if the team is still in contention?  Would you re-sign him at the end of the year in hopes that he still has 3 or 4 MVP-type seasons left in him?  These questions most definitely will rule the Twins front office throughout the summer if we do indeed see the return of the slugger.

Follow Twins Rubes on Twitter @twinsrubes.