In the blink of an eye, Justin Morneau has now officially exited Twins Territory and is now with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
After 10 years with the Twins Morneau was traded Saturday. And as expected you can hear the cries of anger and sadness amongst the fans once the news broke. But according to Terry Ryan, Twins General Manager, no one is more upset than him. “It’s tough. I was around Justin a long time,” Ryan said after trading half of the M&M duo to the first-place Pirates for outfielder Alex Presley and a player to be named or cash. “It was emotional for everyone involved.”
Emotional as it may be, Morneau’s time with the Twins was a good run. He managed to get a Home Run Derby champion, a four-time All-Star, a clubhouse statesman, and in 2006, the American League Most Valuable Player. But all those accolades didn’t seem to matter on Saturday; Terry Ryan decided that younger players might be worth more for the future of the Twins than Morneau could be. And in move we all saw coming he traded one of the faces of the franchise to Pittsburgh.
After three months of speculation about his future. Morneau’s six-year, $80 million contract expires once the season is done. And the Twins were not shy about letting other teams know that he was available for the right price. Initially they received no offers that they liked before the July trading deadline ended, so when no team claimed Morneau he was put on waivers three weeks ago, the Twins had until Saturday night to offer him to a postseason contender.
But on Saturday morning, the Pirates made an offer that Ryan didn’t turn down. And not even a day after he hit his 221st home run as a Twin he was gone. He arrivied in Pittsburgh at the ballpark in the sixth inning of their 7-1 victory over St. Louis, a victory that gave the Pirates a one-game lead in the NLC.
“You look up and see the stands full. I knew what the score was, I checked the score when I landed, and we were listening on the radio on the way in,” Morneau told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “To see the boys up big and to come into that situation against the team you’re battling with for first place was pretty special. Something I’ll probably never forget.”
But while he was en route to Pittsburgh, he wanted to let the fans of Minnesota know how much he meant to them. So he penned a thank-you note to them and distributed it to Twin Cities media outlets, expressing his pride in having played before them. “I am sorry that during my time here, we weren’t able to achieve our ultimate goal of winning the World Series, but I will forever carry many wonderful memories of my time here,” Morneau wrote. “I will always cherish every day I was lucky enough to play in front of you fans in a Minnesota uniform.”
While this decision has left the fans stunned and angry, Ryan stands behind trading Morneau and says, “We did this for a number of reasons.” and while he didn’t want to elaborate on many of them, some say that the benefits are understandable, particularly for a 58-75 team.
The Twins will save the almost $2.2 million that Morneau would have earned in September, and they open a month’s worth of at-bats for younger players. They acquired some much-needed outfield depth and a potential leadoff hitter in Alex Presley. He is a career .261 hitter, with the ability to play all three outfield positions.
“He’s a catalyst-type guy. He can run, he throws [well] enough, he can steal a base,” Ryan said. “He probably shouldn’t hit the ball in the air much, because he’s not a power-oriented guy. He’s an athlete.”
And, though Morneau had made it clear he preferred to stay with the only organization he has ever played for, the Twins did it for him.
“He’s going to get an opportunity to go to a ballclub that’s in contention and in a playoff atmosphere,” Ryan said of the Pirates, who are all but guaranteed their first postseason berth since 1992. “As things settle in, as he gets to Pittsburgh and people give him the ovation that he’ll receive, I think he’ll be excited.”
The Pirates already are.
“I talked to [Pirates manager] Clint Hurdle, and they are really, really excited to have him,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I asked [Hurdle], ‘How you doing today?’ and he said, ‘Much better as of two hours ago.’ ”
While the Pirates may be excited to have him, the Twins aren’t better off in the short term, Morneau was the third-leading home-run hitter in franchise history. Morneau led the Twins in home runs with 17 and in RBI with 74. They also lost a vacuum at first base, a player who saved countless errors by scooping errant throws. And they lost a strong leader in the clubhouse, a player who led by example.
“No doubt, he was our leader,” Gardenhire said. “He was the one who set the table in there. When something needed to be said, Mornie always was always able to step up.”
The Twins have clearly lost a lot in trading Morneau, but they (not surprisingly) stand by this decision. “We wouldn’t have done this,” Ryan said, “if we weren’t pleased with what might come back.”
Let’s hope for the immediate and long term future of the Twins that he’s right.