Fans loved Justin Morneau because he did things the right way. Now, he'll do them in Pittsburgh.
By TYLER MASON FS North
The trade wasn't surprising, although for many
Twins fans it was certainly disappointing.
On Saturday, Minnesota sent first baseman and fan favorite
Justin Morneau to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for 28-year-old outfielder Alex Presley and a player to be named later or cash. Immediately, fans reacted on Twitter and Facebook with disappointment and disgust.
It's understandable that they're sad to see one of the faces of the franchise -- the other being
Joe Mauer -- leave the organization. At the same time, it made sense for the Twins to trade Morneau by Saturday, the final day of the waiver trade deadline.
The 32-year-old native of British Columbia is a free agent after the season, so he very well may be playing elsewhere next year anyway. Minnesota isn't going to the postseason this year, while Pittsburgh is currently tied for first place in the National League Central. This gives Morneau a shot at the postseason -- which, due to injuries, he hasn't played in since 2006 -- and the Twins get something in return in Presley, who has 204 games of big-league experience.
Of course, there's always a chance that Morneau could re-sign with Minnesota after the season. He has enjoyed playing for the Twins and, until Saturday, it was the only organization he knew after Minnesota drafted him in the third round in 1999. But like any other free agent, it will be a matter of dollars as well as whether Morneau wants to play for a Minnesota team that appears at least one more year from competing again.
The trade-and-re-sign approach is not unheard of, and the Twins did just that with closer Rick Aguilera back in the mid-90s. After trading Aguilera to Boston in 1995, Aguilera re-signed with Minnesota as a free agent prior to the 1996 season. If both parties think it's a good fit, Morneau could come back in 2014.
If Morneau doesn't return to Minnesota, he still has cemented his legacy as a Twin. He leaves with the third-most home runs in team history (221). Morneau surpassed Tony Oliva for sole possession of third on that list with a solo homer in Friday's win over Texas. Morneau's solo shot off Yu Darvish proved to be the game winner in the 3-2 Twins victory -- and it also proved to be his last hit in a Minnesota uniform.
Moreau has added plenty of hardware during his Twins career. That includes the American League's Most Valuable Player award in 2006, the Home Run Derby crown in 2008, four All-Star appearances and two Silver Slugger awards.
On top of his accolades as a player, though, Morneau was a hit in the Twin Cities community. He and his wife, Krista, held an annual charity casino night, with proceeds going to support research for juvenile arthritis, and he was active in other community events. Morneau was also a leader in the clubhouse -- he had one of the corner lockers given to a club's veteran leaders -- and was open and honest with the media, choosing his words wisely but always offering great insight.
A quick scan of the jerseys and T-shirts at Target Field, and it was obvious who the two biggest draws were: All-Star catcher Joe Mauer, whose No. 7 jersey is the most popular, and Morneau, whose No. 33 was a close second behind Mauer. Fans loved Morneau because he did things the right way both on and off the field.
Saturday was a harsh reminder for Twins fans that baseball is indeed a business. Trades happen every year and players switch jerseys all the time. When it's a star player and a fan favorite, though, that reality becomes a bit harder to swallow.
In the end, this was the best for both sides. The Twins acquire a player by trading Morneau as opposed to getting nothing by letting him walk in free agency at the end of the year, and Morneau now has a shot at playing in the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
It will no doubt be weird for Twins fans to see Morneau put on his black and gold No. 36 Pirates jersey for the first time. But he certainly deserves another shot at a World Series ring. He wasn't going to get it in Minnesota this year. Twins faithful should now hope he does in Pittsburgh.