Thursday, January 13, 2011

Morneau's Health Connected to Thome's Return

Phil Mackey reported yesterday that the Twins are "optimistic" that former MVP Justin Morneau will be ready for Spring Training.  He wouldn't normally start baseball-related workouts until the middle of January so there should be more conclusive results at that time.  This can bring a lot of thoughts to the minds of Twins fans.

There has also been news in recent days that Jim Thome is being pursued by the Texas Rangers.  Last season Thome was brought to the Twins to be a part-time DH/pinch hitter.  After the injury of Morneau, Thome's role became much more significant on a team fighting for a playoff spot. 

Many bloggers over the last few days have examined multiple aspects of this topic.  Seth Stohs looked at the free agent options and the in-house options for the Twins.  Nick Nelson looked at the possibility of swapping sluggers with the Texas Rangers.  Jim Crikket posted a help wanted ad for a professional hitter

I see the return of Thome to the Twins being connected to the issue of Morneau's health.  If the Twins have major concerns about Morneau's ability to perform next season, they will continue to push to bring back Thome.  If they feel that Morneau's health isn't going to be a problem, then overpaying for a bat on the bench isn't the best option for the Twins.

There are few different scenario's that could play out if Thome were to return to the Twins.  The health of other players would play a large role in the amount of at-bats that Thome would receive.  Here is a look at the way that these different scenario's could turn out:

Morneau is healthy, Thome as part-time DH/pinch hitter
If Morneau is healthy, I think all Twins fans will have a collective sigh of relief.  That first high and tight pitch on Morneau will defiantly be a disheartening moment.  Twins fans will be able to watch cheerfully as Thome slowly inches closer to the 600-HR club.

Morneau is not healthy, Thome is a full-time DH
This might be the most dreaded situation for Twins fans.  At age 40, Thome has very few seasons left.  The health of Justin Morneau could be a franchise changing event for the Twins.  Fans would be able to see Thome reach the 600-HR club much quicker with him serving as DH in most games.  Gardenhire's dream of more speed would also be slightly diminished with Thome on the basepath. 

An outfielder is injured, Thome is a full-time DH.
The Twins have four outfielders (Delmon Young, Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel) for three outfield positions.  If one of those players was injured, Thome would see an increase in playing-time because the DH role would become vacant.  The Twins also have young outfielders in the minor league system (Ben Revere, Aaron Hicks, Joe Benson)  that could get called-up to for a fill-in role.  In that case, Thome's at-bats could stay the same with an outfield injury.

Thome was a great part of the Twins in 2010.  He offered some of the great moments from the first season at Target Field.  It sounds like he was a great influence in the clubhouse and I would love to see him pursue the 600-HR mark as a member of the Twins.

My gut feeling is that he will be elsewhere next season and this can be good news for the Twins.  If Thome is with another club, that could mean that the team has no lingering concerns about Morneau's health.  Thome's return and Morneau's health will continue to backdrops for the rest of the offseason.

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Update:  Early yesterday afternoon Jerry Crasnick tweeted that if the Twins have to go in the opposite direction of Thome that the extra money could be spent on the bullpen or a RH bat for the bench.  Craig Calcaterra says it's plan B but maybe it is a plan that could work in favor of the Twins.

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