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Tim Bouvine: M & M boys need R & R now for Twins to prosper later

Everyone knows the 2012 Minnesota Twins will need a return to form by their one time fixtures of the franchise Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau that displayed more futility than franchise in 2011 as the Twins stumbled to a 99 loss season.

What might be known in the next year or two is that the club will need to move both of these once untouchable stars if the team wants to contend for the ultimate prize of a World Series ring rather than a possible Central Division title that has worn out its welcome in Minnesota in the last decade.

The dilemma lies in the reduction in production from both Mauer and Morneau and their hefty contracts that defies the results displayed on the stats sheet the past two seasons.

It appears as if die-hard Twins fans will be reduced to pure enjoyment of the game of baseball this season as the club looks to be average at best, but praying for repeat performances by the M & M boys of past MVP lore or anything close to that production will hopefully put these two in demand again from baseball executive types.

R & R usually stands for rest and relaxation and the comics in Minnesota can easily come up with several punch lines for both of the oft-injured M & M boys, but in this instance the R & R should stand for resurgence and removal as this might describe the best case scenario for the pennant hopeless Twins of 2012.

Fans and foe alike both know that Joe Mauer will never repeat his MVP performance of 2009 with an apparent statistical anomaly of 28 HR’s although he may approach the 96 RBI and .365 BA some time again. That power statistic that most assumed would continue as Mauer was approaching his prime netted him a $184 million eight-year guaranteed contract that currently appears way too favorable to Joe and devours much of the team’s expected 2012 payroll of around $100 million with his $23 million annual salary that keeps the same bloated number through the 2018 season.

A revival in 2012 from Mauer and an injury-free season might possibly entice a big market team like the Boston Red Sox to inquiry about a trade with the Twins. The Red Sox nearly $200 million payroll in 2012 that will likely climb in the decade ahead could absorb his $23 million a year salary at approximately 10% of payroll much better than the Twins where Mauer eats up nearly 25% of the team’s salary budget in 2012.

Mauer could follow the path of another one-time Twin Cities star Kevin Garnett of the Timberwolves that escaped Minneapolis to claim a NBA championship title with the Boston Celtics after years of coming up short in the playoffs with the ‘Wolves, much like the Twins of the past decade.

Mauer would prosper peppering line drives off the “Big Green Monster” wall at Fenway Park with its short left-field distance tailor made for Joe’s opposite field preference. He could make the difference in Boston with their annual high ambitions to win it all rather than stifling the Twins annual approach to contending in the Central Division.

The Twins could certainly use a restocking of young pitchers with potential that might come in a trade, but more importantly, the club could be free of the restrictions of the bloated contract. The latter benefit takes precedence over Mauer’s trade value. The financial albatross needs to be lifted and sooner, rather than later.

Justin Morneau’s contract expires after the 2013 season so the Twins could just wait it out, but a near return to form of Morneau in 2012 could allow the Twins to jettison his $14 million a year figure by this year’s trading deadline. The risk just seems to outweigh the reward with the one-time slugging first baseman as he battles recurring concussion symptoms, but a big-market team just might take that gamble with only a season and a half salary left on his contract. Again, the salary dump takes precedence over whatever Morneau might bring in return.

In hindsight, both contracts were mistakes by the Twins front office if they had the foresight to anticipate a $100 million payroll so soon after the Target Field opening. Actually winning a World Series would be difficult enough with two players hogging up almost 40% of the team’s annual payroll even if they were performing to their expected contract standards. It is nearly impossible with substandard production that is only a fraction of their former selves.

With a pitching staff loaded with question marks that even if answered positively looks overmatched in its division, the Minnesota Twins of 2012 might have to be content with the pursuit of 80 or so victories and an 80% return to form of the M & M boys. At least the latter might entice some other fools to remove the folly of the front office.

Resurgence and removal can clear the slate and get the club moving in the right direction again. Now if we could only bring back George Steinbrenner from the dead?

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