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After Twins’ terrible weekend, Morneau reassesses, and Mauer opens up

The M&M Boys speak out after three blowout losses to the Angels: Justin Morneau expresses regret for criticizing the front office over trade negotiations.

Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau
REUTERS/Eric Miller
Justin Morneau congratulates Joe Mauer after the Twins catcher’s solo homerun against the New York Yankees last month.

Almost all of their Minnesota Twins teammates had showered, dressed and left the scene by the time Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer finished their post-game weight training and entered the clubhouse late Sunday afternoon. The Angels hammered Twins pitching for a third straight day, finishing off a series sweep with a 13-4 rout, and Morneau spoke for the room by saying he was glad to see the hot-hitting Angels leave town.

“That’s an understatement,” he said.

But Morneau added something else in an interview with MinnPost, something surprising — regret that he publicly criticized the front office before the trade deadline.

In stories in the Star Tribune, Morneau jabbed the Twins’ traditional inactivity at the trade deadline, and claimed his buddy Mauer might bolt in free agency after the 2010 season if the general manager, Bill Smith, did nothing to improve a club begging for pitching and middle-infield help. Joe Nathan seconded the latter point.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have said as much as I did,” Morneau said. “I don’t think it made much impact anyway. They were going to do what they were going to do regardless. Sometimes you get frustrated and say more than you need to.

“At this point, we want to be selfish and win this year. At the same time, they’ve got to build a successful franchise. What if you trade all your prospects and then you don’t win? Then you have a team that’s got nothing coming for five years.”

Note that Morneau did not say he was misquoted, or that his opinion was incorrect. He copped only to popping off when he should have kept his thoughts to himself.

Actually, Morneau has nothing to be sorry for. He and Nathan said what had to be said, and their brusqueness might have nudged Smith into acquiring veteran shortstop Orlando Cabrera from the A’s for minor-league shortstop Tyler Ladendorf. But Smith’s refusal to surrender more prospects for pitching left the Twins with a shaky rotation and a thin bullpen going into the season’s final two months.

Twins’ problem: Few prospects able to help
Part of the problem, as we described three weeks ago, is Minnesota’s lack of even second-tier prospects at Class AAA Rochester and Class AA New Britain. If the Twins had anything there to showcase, they wouldn’t have brought back Jesse Crain and Alexi Casilla so quickly. “There’s nobody down there that can help us,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. 

But how does an organization that prides itself on building through the draft end up so thin at the upper levels? Because the best players from the 2005 draft are major-leaguers already, and the 2006 and 2007 drafts look like washouts. 

The only ’06 draftee even close to major-league ready is third baseman Danny Valencia, a 19th-rounder recently promoted to Rochester. First-round pick Chris Parmalee, a first baseman/outfielder drafted out of high school, is still in A ball. Of the 2007 picks, first-rounder Ben Revere — a short, speedy, singles-hitting outfielder who can’t throw — appears the only one on a major-league track. Maybe somebody else will come along, but that’s what it looks like now. Scouts say the bulk of the Twins’ prospects lie in Class A or rookie ball, and Smith resisted dipping into that.

“Our philosophy hasn’t changed,” Gardenhire said.

Still, if you’re a Twins’ player or fan, it’s frustrating to note the White Sox used three players against the Twins last Wednesday that General Manager Ken Williams acquired since May 29 — first baseman Mark Kotsay, catcher Ramon Castro, and right-handed reliever Tony Pena.

 It’s especially frustrating to see Twins pitching battered all weekend by the Angels, whose 35 runs and 52 hits in the three-game series were two short of club records in both categories. In 16 games since the All-Star Break, Twins pitchers have allowed 25 homers while posting a 6.35 ERA. “You feel like you’re 20 games out after a series like this,” Gardenhire said.

Meanwhile, the Tigers and White Sox dealt multiple prospects to land Jarrod Washburn and Jake Peavy, respectively, the same day Smith acquired Cabrera.

Morneau sees team consistency problem
“We’ve got so many young guys, and it’s tough to find that consistency,” Morneau said of the starting pitchers. “You have to make adjustments during the game, and not wait until after you watch the video the next day. We’ve got a lot of guys at the same level, as far as learning how to do that. It would be nice to have a guy who’s been there eight or nine years to show them the way, but we don’t, so they have to learn how to make the adjustments.
“Would it have been nice if we added a veteran starter? Yeah. But we’re talented enough to win … If we can continue doing what we’re doing (offensively), and our starting pitching gets a little bump, we can be a tough team.”

And what does Mauer make of all this? He liked the Cabrera deal. And he’s not thinking much beyond his next game, let alone his next contract.

“I don’t have to make the decision for a long time,” he said. “It’ll happen when it’s going to happen. I’m not a guy who’ll say, ‘Let’s get it done right now.’ “

“What I want to do is win a World Series…I grew up here. I played here. I feel my home is here. How great would it be to win a World Series here? I get the chance to have my grandparents come to every home game. They’ve missed maybe three games in six years. It would mean everything for me to win (a World Series), and especially to win here.”

But Mauer did address one issue — the sense among certain Twins officials that Mauer is too attached to his family and the Twin Cities to leave, no matter what his teammates say. When Morneau first chided the front office, I asked Gardenhire about it. He laughed as if I had fallen for the world’s biggest con. “(Mauer) just built a cabin up north,” Gardenhire said. “He’s not going anywhere.”

A few things first. A Mauer confidante told me last week: “If it gets to this time next year, and they don’t do anything to improve the club, Joe’s out of here.” That was before the Cabrera trade. Mauer did not offer any timetables or ultimatums to MinnPost on Sunday.

But Mauer knew quite a bit about the Red Sox, one of the teams believed to be interested in signing him in free agency, at least before acquiring Victor Martinez from Cleveland. Mauer noted he hit three balls to left over the weekend that would have cleared Fenway Park’s Green Monster.

And what about Gardenhire’s cabin manifesto? That made Mauer chuckle.

 “That doesn’t really have anything to do with it,” he said. “I haven’t been able to enjoy it very much, but my family and friends are certainly enjoying it. I don’t think it’s going to play a role.”