MINNEAPOLIS — For years, Justin Morneau was a fixture in Minnesota’s clubhouse, his locker stall occupying one of the four corner lockers.
But as the Twins returned home Friday for the start of a lengthy homestand, Morneau’s locker was filled by Josh Willingham. Minnesota traded Morneau to Pittsburgh, meaning one of the Twins’ proven clubhouse leaders was gone.
Now as Minnesota plays out the remainder of the 2013 season, the Twins have to find a player who can fill that leadership void left behind after the trade.
“I think he taught a lot of guys in here how to go about their business the right way. That’s going to be missed,” said Twins closer Glen Perkins, who occupies one of the other corner lockers in the clubhouse. “Like I said the day we traded him, some other guys are going to have to step up.”
This Twins team doesn’t necessarily have that vocal type of leader that Morneau often was in the clubhouse. If something needed to be said, it was often the 32-year-old Morneau who stood up to say it.
All-Star catcher Joe Mauer — the other M to Morneau in the Twins’ now-defunct “M&M Boys” — is the longest-tenured player on the team. But the soft-spoken Mauer isn’t that vocal type that Morneau was, opting to lead by example instead and chime in on occasion.
As the undisputed face of the franchise, it may be time for Mauer to become more vocal in Morneau’s absence.
“It’s tough. Usually when you’re a lead by example type guy, it’s because you’re quiet,” said reliever Brian Duensing. “To try and get someone who’s quiet to speak up, you’re kind of putting that person out of their element, too, and it might not necessarily work out as well as you’d like it to. It’s kind of a tricky deal.”
What about Perkins? The Minnesota native now has All-Star credibility after making it to his first midseason classic this year. And he’s in his eighth season in the majors after the Twins drafted him in 2004.
But as a relief pitcher, it’s hard to be the everyday leader, Perkins said, since he’s not on the field every day like Morneau was.
“I feel like I’m there more for the younger pitchers. I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job with that,” Perkins said. “I think obviously they put Willingham there, and he’s a guy who’s signed here for next year too. And I think Joe, I think that we’ll probably see Joe get a little more vocal, as much as maybe he will let himself. I think he’s a guy that probably some of those hitters are going to look to now.”
Mauer progressing from concussion: Mauer said Friday that he is feeling better every day after suffering a concussion on Aug. 19 against the Mets. But the Twins catcher added that he still doesn’t have a timetable for when he might return to action.
“It’s been a process,” Mauer said. “I’m trying to get back out there as soon as I can. It was a good day today.”
Mauer suffered the injury when he took a foul tip off the facemask. Yet while the former MVP has also played first base over the last few years, he wants to return behind the plate whenever he does take the field again.
“I’m going to tell you what he has said: he wants to catch,” said Twins general manager Terry Ryan. “If it comes to that where he’s good to go and he wants to catch, we’ll catch him.”
In 113 games before the concussion, Mauer was batting .324 with 11 home runs and 47 RBI.
Presley makes strong first impression: Outfielder Alex Presley played in just four games in a Minnesota Twins uniform before getting his first start at Target Field on Friday against Toronto. In that short time, the 28-year-old has been impressive at the plate — granted, in a very small sample size.
Minnesota acquired Presley from the Pirates, along with a player to be named later, in exchange for Morneau on Aug. 31. Presley spent most of the season in Triple A, playing just 29 games with the Pirates.
After he was traded, the Twins injected him into their lineup immediately. Entering Friday’s game, he was 7-for-18 (.389) with a home run, five RBI and four runs.
“To be able to put into the lineup has been awesome,” Presley said Friday. “To play — and play well — has definitely been the best start I could have envisioned coming over here. It’s just been a whirlwind since getting traded, but everybody from the staff to the players and everybody in between has been awesome.”
Morneau will be a free agent at the end of the season, and the Twins knew there was a chance they might not get anything in return for the first baseman if he signed with another team this winter. So Minnesota traded him to the contending Pirates and received at least one player — Presley — with major league experience.
Still, Twins fans were none too thrilled to see one of the cornerstones of the franchise over the past decade switching uniforms, and Presley understands that.
“(To be traded) for a guy like Morneau, it’s pretty cool. He’s been a fixture here,” Presley said. “I’m not here to replace Morneau. I’m just here to play my game. He’s going over there to do his thing down the stretch and I’m sure he’ll do great things.”