MINNEAPOLIS — Justin Morneau knew the questions would be asked.
His name has been flying amid trade rumors as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline quickly approaches. Sitting at fourth place in the division, the Minnesota Twins will almost assuredly be sellers, not buyers, by the end of the month. Perhaps the most valuable trade chip is Morneau, who leads the team in RBI with 52 and is batting .273.
If Morneau does get traded, it would mean leaving behind the team he’s spent his entire career with. So how much does Minnesota’s first baseman allow himself to think about playing for a different organization?
“It’s part of the game. It’s part of the business of baseball,” Morneau said Friday, before the first game after the All-Star break. “Everyone would like to play their entire career somewhere but sometimes it’s not an option or doesn’t work out that way or the timing isn’t right. I’m still here and I’m still happy to be here. I’m still a member of the team and I hope to be in the future. But beyond that, there’s not really much I can control.”
Morneau was the Twins’ third-round pick in the 1999 draft and debuted with Minnesota in 2003. Since then, he’s hit 211 home runs, was the 2006 American League MVP and a four-time All-Star.
Recently, though, Morneau’s numbers have dipped, especially his power numbers. Since a concussion in 2010 that cut his season short, Morneau has struggled to hit for power. He finished with 19 homers a year ago, but the player who was once a 30-homer hitter has just seven entering Friday’s game against Cleveland.
Even with his power outage, though, the 32-year-old Morneau could be a hot commodity for contending teams needing a first baseman or a left-handed bat as the deadline nears. He is a free agent at the end of the season and said Friday that there have been no recent discussions with the Twins about a potential contract extension. He also reiterated that he has a limited no-trade clause that includes six teams — he wouldn’t specify which ones — that he can’t be traded to.
“It’s pretty limited,” Morneau said of the no-trade clause. “It’s probably not anyone who would have an impact on it. That list has to be in November or whenever it is before teams even have their rosters. But you always have an idea of where you’d like to go or not want to go. If it doesn’t fit, there are reasons for it.”
Morneau was featured in a bobblehead giveaway Friday, along with teammate Joe Mauer. The first baseman’s No. 33 jersey is among the most common jerseys worn by fans at Target Field, save for Mauer’s No. 7.
Indeed, Morneau has become one of the faces of the Twins over the years. His teammates can’t quite imagine what it would be like to see him in a different uniform.
“I’m not even going to speculate on that,” Mauer said of his closest friend on the team. “I’ve been around long enough to realize there’s a lot of stuff going on out there and try not to react to things like that. What he means to the team, he’s a big part of our success over the years here and I hope he’s here for a long time.”
As for Morneau, he continues to avoid listening to the rumors. He’s more concerned about helping his club get off to a strong start in the second half of the year.
Anything more than that is out of his control.
“I’m not going to play the what-if game,” Morneau said. “I’m happy to be here. I’ll worry about the future when it comes. I’ve been here long enough to know the future is not guaranteed. So I’ll just enjoy the day and the organization that has been so good to me. Hopefully I’m here for a lot longer, but we’ll see what happens.”