Yep, No. 33 is set to be a free agent next season, and the Twins have a big decision to make.
The two situations couldn’t be more different. One man has been labeled a franchise player, has countless fans wearing his number on their backs and has never played for any other organization in Major League Baseball. The other was drafted by the New York Mets, spent seven years in Queens and joined the Twins on a one-year deal.
Obviously, the Morneau situation is more difficult. That’s not to say the Pelfrey decision is easy—he’s a former first round pick that is really good when he is healthy—but it’s obviously going to weigh a little lighter on how the fans perceive the organization.
In order to attack both decisions, I will look at why the team would keep him and why they would let him go and then offer my prediction.
The Justin Morneau Decision
The message the Twins send to star players both outside, and more importantly, inside the organization is that if you come and play well here in Minnesota, we’ll make sure you are a Twin for life.
This is immensely important.
For years the Twins would develop young players and then trade them away when they got to expensive. They were playing in a second-rate facility located in a small market.
This means that Minnesota essentially was a glorified farm team for guys like Chuck Knoblauch, Torii Hunter and Johan Santana. The best players in the Twin Cities knew they could make more money in New York or Los Angeles and left town after either being low-balled or put on the trading block. The Twins essentially had to hope that all their young prospects blossomed at once and made an incredible postseason run in order to win a championship.
This is a new era for Twins baseball, however, now that they play in an outdoor facility in the middle of downtown in front of 30,000 fans every night. There are no excuses: This team must put forth to keep their stars in town.
It’s not as simple as forking over the money, however. They need to show that they will lock up a superstar and stick with him through thick and thin.
Morneau is indeed a superstar. The British Columbian slugger has hit 30 home runs three times in his career, was named AL MVP in 2006 and is a four-time All-Star. He has also been through tough times: He has suffered multiple concussions, only hit four home runs in 2011 and even been replaced at first base in the last two years.
This year he has taken over as a full-time first baseman (with a DH stint thrown in every now and then) and is hitting around .300, but he also went through a massive homerless streak, and there is some question as to if the 32-year-old will ever hit 30 home runs again in his career.
By keeping him, the Twins organization is not only keeping fans that bought Morneau jerseys and want to see familiar faces year-in and year-out happy, but also telling other players throughout the league that if you’re a star in Minnesota, they’re going to do what they can to keep you in Minnesota.
There is an argument to trying to trade him for value, however, and it starts with his age.
Morneau is 32 and is making $14 million this season. His production is dropping, and while he will not earn as much money at this point his career, offering him significantly less money may be seen as low-balling by his camp. On the other hand, Minnesota cannot afford to have a lame-duck contract on their books. It is still a small-market team, and they have plenty of young players—Trevor Plouffe, Oswaldo Arcia, etc.—that are going to expect big paydays down the road.
Chris Parmelee is not playing great right now, but if his bat heats up as the season goes on (and it is perfectly capable of doing that), the 25-year-old is a long-time option at first base. The outfield is going to get plugged up: Aaron Hicks, Byron Buxton and Oswaldo Arcia are all under 25 and appear to be ready to take over in the next few years. Plouffe will probably be moved to the outfield as well once Miguel Sano comes up, and that leaves Parmelee as the resident first baseman. Remember, Mauer will play a little first as well.
The designated-hitter spot is also getting full. Mauer will spend some time there, and so will Plouffe and Parmelee if the latter stays on the same trajectory as the former.
If the Twins do this right, however, they will sign Morneau to a longer-term deal, but at a hometown rate. He may end up being a guy that pinch-hits off the bench at the end of the contract, but that’s fine as long as he’s not making $14 million to do so.
Morneau accepts a five-year deal at around $8 million per year.
It seems a little high, but there are going to be teams that will give him more money for less time. The Twins see this as an upfront cost. Essentially, they are paying him a little more than what Willingham got (3-year, $21 million deal at age 33) with significantly less on his resume and keeping him around until age 37, at which point they’ll say, “We’ll talk.”
There are guys in the league who will be making more money at his age (think Joey Votto or Josh Hamilton); however, the former is significantly younger (29) and the latter is a cautionary tale.
The Mike Pelfrey Decision
Okay, this section is going to be a little bit shorter.
Pelfrey was the ninth overall pick out of Wichita State and joined the Mets at age 22 shortly after his junior year of college. By 2008 he was a stud pitcher. He went 13-11 with a 3.72 ERA and pitched 200.2 innings. (That’s a lot of losses, but remember: Mets.)
He had a little drop-off in 2009, going 10-12 with a 5.03 ERA in only 184.1 innings, but pitched 204.0 innings the next season and went 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA. His adjusted ERA, which accounts for Citi Field’s dimensions, was 113, 81 and 107, respectively.
In 2011, at age 27, Pelfrey slipped a bit, going 7-13 with a 4.74 ERA (78 ERA+), which was concerning because he was in his prime.
Then he had Tommy John surgery after only 19. 2 innings pitched last year.
Here’s my thought: 2009 wasn’t that bad. Yes, it was a bit of a slip up, but he bounced back the next season and had a WAR of 3.5 and 2.1 in 2008 and 2010, respectively.
Just as an outsider looking in, I knew Pelfrey was a bright spot on the Mets. I also liked the signing: It was a one-year deal, and as the old adage goes, there’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal. But beyond that, he’s a quieter guy, a good fit in the Twins clubhouse, and had a lot of upside at very little risk.
This season he’s been all over the place. Honestly, I thought he’d be a Kevin Correia-type: He’d go out there, give you six or seven good innings, allow Jared Burton and Glen Perkins to do their thing and allow the Twins lineup to win games.
I didn’t see Pelfrey of 2008 or 2010, but I didn’t see Pelfrey of 2011 either. It was kind of a happy medium.
Instead he’s been erratic. He picked up a win against the mighty Detroit Tigers in the opening series and then went only 2.0 innings against the Kansas City Royals in a homecoming game for the Kansas native. He went six against the Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles, but went four against the lowly Chicago White Sox and then two against the Atlanta Braves.
Lately, he’s looked at least better. He’s gone at least six innings in the three starts he’s made in June and has been needed in the rotation with Vance Worley’s demotion to the minors.
At the same time, Minnesota has options in its rotation.
As it stands, the Twins will have Scott Diamond (who is progressing), Kevin Correia (who has been steady), P.J. Walters (if he keeps it up) and then the possibility of prospects like Kyle Gibson, Trevor May and Alex Meyer to call up next season. Worley is a wild card, and worst-case scenario they bring in Cole De Vries, Liam Hendriks or Pedro Hernandez to make starts if push comes to shove.
Having Pelfrey would be nice, but he is expendable at this point.
Twins offer Pelfrey a three-year, $12 million deal. He only leaves if he thinks he can make more money elsewhere.
This deal will keep Pelfrey, 29, in Minnesota through his prime if he accepts it. While it may see counter-intuitive, it might be best if he shows signs of promise but is erratic enough for outside teams to hesitate to give him more money. That way the Twins get him at a good price, through his prime, and then can make a decision there.
It’s not entirely bad if he walks. Even if Worley doesn’t make it back to the majors, there are people to fill the final two spots, and it leaves rooms for the prospects to grow.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.