MINNEAPOLIS — As he endured the effects and setbacks from his concussion, there were times when retirement crept into Justin Morneau’s mind. The Minnesota Twins first baseman was injured midway through the 2010 season and missed the rest of the year. He wasn’t the same player in 2011 and again struggled to stay healthy, playing in just 69 games.
Last season was a different story, as Morneau was able to stay on the field for 134 games. By the end of 2012, the concussion was no longer an issue. He had minor offseason wrist surgery but otherwise enters this spring with a clean bill of health.
Yet while Morneau no longer has to worry about concussions, there are other questions looming about his future. Namely, his contract, which is up at the end of the 2013 season.
“I’m already pretty set in my life,” Morneau said Friday at TwinsFest when asked about his contract situation. “It’s one of those things where I’ve been through enough. I know that I love the game. I missed the game when I was away, and I enjoy the game. It’s hard for me to look too far into the future. I just try to take every day and every game. When something’s taken away from you, you realize how much you miss it. …
“That (contract) stuff will take care of itself. It’s out of my concern. My job is to play first base and help us win games and all that other stuff will kind of happen as it happens.”
It seems like only yesterday that Morneau signed his six-year, $80 million contract extension. In reality, it’s been five years since he put ink to paper back in January 2008.
Much has changed since that 2008 season. Morneau and catcher Joe Mauer are the only two position players remaining from that roster.
“Time flies,” the 2006 NL MVP said.
Aside from Morneau’s contract situation, there’s also the question of whether he’ll be in a Twins uniform at the end of the season. Morneau’s name has been brought up in trade rumors in the past year, and the fact that he finally put together a healthy season in 2012 did nothing but add fuel to that fire.
Morneau, 31, has spent his entire 10-year major league career with the Twins and was chosen by Minnesota in the third round of the 1999 draft. But if Minnesota is once again struggling leading up to the trade deadline, Morneau’s name will likely be in the rumor mill.
“I’m not going to look on the negative side of it. I’d rather think that we’re adding players at the deadline at this point than trading anybody,” Morneau said. “That stuff will be out of my control when it does come about. Whenever the deadline comes, that won’t really be up to me. It’s something where we’re hopefully playing well enough where we’re adding players and don’t even have to think about that.”
For now, Morneau isn’t worried about his contract or trade rumors. He and the Twins are concerned with keeping him on the field as much as possible, something that finally happened in 2012 after two injury-plagued seasons and another injury-shortened season in 2009.
“Everyone says he’s doing everything he needs to do right now, he’s working,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Morneau. “Hopefully we’ll get to spring training and we’ll go from there. I’ve had a pretty good plan with him also. Get him enough at-bats so he’s ready at the start of the season.”
In his 134 games last year, Morneau batted .267 with 19 home runs — third on the Twins — and 77 RBI in 570 plate appearances. He played some of his best baseball in the second half of the season, batting .278 with six homers and 30 RBI in August and September.
But like Morneau said at the end of last season, he’d trade his individual success in order for the Twins to get back to competing for American League Central titles.
“We finished in last. As we’ve found out before, personal success doesn’t matter if the team doesn’t do well,” Morneau said. “I’m not ever happy just to play. Obviously, being out there is good but I want to be successful. So it’s a hard way to gauge it. So yes, I’m glad I was able to play. But am I happy with the year? Definitely not. It’s one of those things where, yeah, it’s good but I expect more and I expect better.”