Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mauer or Morneau: Who has more to prove in 2012?

At the beginning of last week, the writers at Big League Stew put together a list of the top ten injury comebacks to watch in 2012. There were names like Buster Posey, Ryan Howard and Johan Santana but the obvious duo from the Twins was Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Each of these players will be coming back after different types of injuries forced them to the sidelines for large chunks of 2011. The results on the field for the Twins showed how evident it was that the team was missing both of their former MVPs.

Mauer's 2011: It was hard to keep track of the plague of injuries that attacked Mauer in 2011. The origins of his problems might be traced back to knee surgery in the offseason leading up to the start last season. This lead into a season in which his list of injuries included a mysterious diagnosis of bilateral leg weakness, soreness in his hips, problems with his elbow, shoulder issues, back pain, and his season ended when he contracted pneumonia.

He was in the midst of his first year of his monster $184 million contract and there were high expectations as he entered this new domain. The results on the field couldn't have been much worse as he played in the fewest amount of games since his rookie campaign and he only managed 18 extra-base hits for the season. Reports came out earlier in the month that Mauer is primed and ready to go for the 2012 season. He knows that he has a lot to prove to fans across the baseball world.

Morneau's 2011:  Morneau has made a tradition of missing big chunks of the last three seasons. During that time, there have been 212 games in which Morneau was forced to miss playing time. Recurring issues with concussion symptoms have been a scary factor which has forced Morneau to the sidelines. A slide into second base in Toronto in 2010 ended that season for Morneau and he has yet to be the same player he was before the injury. The symptoms continued for parts of 2011 and Morneau attempted a diving play while playing first base in late August and this triggered another occurrence of his concussion symptoms.

On top of the concussion issues, the 2011 season also saw him suffer through a pinched nerve in his neck, numbness in his left hand, and left wrist soreness. The end of Morneau's season in September saw the first baseman undergo surgery for his left wrist, bone spurs in his right foot, and a cyst in his left knee. In an interview on Sunday, Twins GM Terry Ryan said Morneau's concussions "have not been an issue right now." That is a good sign for the time being.

With both of the Twins former MVP's looking to make comebacks in 2012, there are plenty of concerns for fans of the club. Between Mauer and Morneau, who has more to prove in 2012?

Mauer's 2012: Mauer needs to find some way to stay on the field. In 2011, he showed the ability to play multiple positions on the field and this could be one way to keep Mauer in the line-up on a more regular basis. With no surgeries this offseason, Mauer has time to complete his full offseason regime. During the regular season, he spoke of planned changes to his routine in the offseason and recently he told reporters, "I've got my weight back. I've been working out for a couple weeks... Everything looks good, and I should be ready to go on Day 1 of camp." Mauer needs to prove he is worth the money the organization has invested in him when they paid him to be their catcher for the future. He needs to show the ability to stay healthy and contribute to the team of which he is the superstar. Most of all, he might need to prove he can be a leader on a team that saw the departure of clubhouse voices Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan.

Morneau's 2012: The Twins and Morneau hope he will be able to continue to play first base for the significant future. But the team has already said a switch to being a full-time designated hitter could be in the not so distant future. Morneau has been fairly quiet this offseason as he has spent time recovering from all of his surgeries at the end of the year. When the Twins get to Ft. Myers for the start of Spring Training, Morneau is going to have to prove a lot to the club. He has to show the team he can handle playing a defensive position without a reoccurrence of his concussion symptoms. In the time Morneau was on the field in 2011, he showed plenty of struggles at the plate as he tried to find his rhythm after missing so much time. Now he has missed even more time and the same struggles could follow him to the batter's box. With so many question marks, there is plenty to prove in 2012.

In the end, the Twins will need both players healthy and on the field for the team to find success in 2012. For fans of the Twins, there will be much higher expectations for Mauer to produce on the field. It would be nice for Morneau to get back to form but his bat would be an added bonus. All of Twins Territory will focus on Mauer's mega-contract and demand more from a player who has shown the ability to be one of the best in the game. There will be a lot for each player to prove and it will start for each of them in Spring Training.


Andrew said...

I agree. It's definitely on Mauer this year. Without looking, I think we're in the last year of Morneau's contract, so we can deal with whatever his production level is or isn't (I'm not saying this to sound jerkish or anything; I really hope his concussion symptoms are forever gone because they do represent a serious danger to his long-term health and happiness). Mauer has to step up, on and off the field, in 2012, and for the first time really needs to answer critics.

mntwinsmusings said...

I also agree that Mauer has the most to prove this year. The Twins have much more at stake, as Andrew said, because of the length of contracts. According to Baseball Prospectus, Morneau is under contract through 2013 and we all know Mauer has seven more years on his contract.
On the other hand, Mauer's issues can more easily be shown to be in the past. All he has to do is show that he is healthy and strong and that his knee is fully recovered enough for him to hit well. Morneau's ailments are more troubling and have much more potential to be career ending almost anytime.
My bet is that Mauer will rebound and have a decent if not outstanding year and Morneau will struggle again. I hope I am wrong about Morneau.