By Joe Christensen
One thing that struck me Monday at Joe Mauer’s press conference was the deepness of his friendship with Justin Morneau. We’ve written volumes about the M&M Boys’ friendship, but this was cool because they’d barely seen each other since the season ended, so this was one celebratory reunion. It’s hard to say who was more happy, the 2006 MVP or the 2009 MVP?
Morneau and his wife, Krista, planned to be in Minnesota for Thanksgiving, but they arrived early to celebrate with the Mauer family. Mauer was at the Metrodome, doing a national teleconference, when the Morneaus arrived with a bottle of champagne.
“I got the news right after he did,” Morneau said. “I was pretty excited. I was smiling. I was grinning ear-to-ear. I was thinking about how great of a day this is for him, how crazy it’s going to be. I kind of went back to what it was like [in 2006], and now he goes down in the books as the Most Valuable Player in the league for 2009; that’s something that never goes away.”
Morneau, 28, has repeatedly said he hopes he and Mauer wind up spending their whole careers with the Twins, but Mauer, 26, will be eligible for free agency next fall if the Twins don’t sign him to a contract extension.
“We’re going to do everything we can to keep him as a Minnesota Twin,” Morneau said. “He’s still going to be here for next year for sure, and after that, it’ll take care of itself.”
In late September, Morneau expressed confidence that a deal with Mauer would get done and casually mentioned a six-year extension. In this story, I estimated that Mauer’s next deal will average about $20 million per season, so a ballpark estimate could be a six-year, $120 million extension.
“You know, the biggest thing now isn’t the money,” Morneau said Monday. “It’s not going to be that. It’s going to be whether or not he feels we can win everyday with the talent we have the players we have.”
Do the M&M Boys really believe they can win a World Series with the Twins? Yes, Morneau said, answering his own question.
“We’ve made the playoffs five times in the last eight years,” Morneau said. “As a player, that’s all you can ask for. You don’t want to go in feeling like you don’t have a chance of making the playoffs and we’ve got that here, and hopefully that’s what keeps him here.”
Morneau, 28, has four years remaining on his six-year, $80 million contract. He has said he doesn’t want to imagine what it would be like playing here without Mauer. Another question came about maintaining the team’s chemistry, and he gave another telling answer.
“That’s something that makes this organization special,” he said. “When you’re drafted as an 18-year-old kid, coming out of high school — playing together in rookie ball, and rooming together in A-ball, Double-A — you make it to the big leagues, and you see your buddy make up the next year, and you’re pulling for each other to do well.
“You have that opportunity in this organization. That’s something that everybody loves, and when everyone leaves, they always say how much they miss it, how much they miss being a Twin. You ask Torii, you ask Johan — they left, but they still miss it here, and that’s something that we have that other teams don’t have, and that keeps them wanting to stay.”
Note: After missing the season’s final month with a stress fracture in his lower back and undergoing surgery to remove a bone chip from his right wrist, Morneau said he feels good. “I started working out a couple weeks ago,” he said. “My back feels good. I’m slowing getting into it, trying not to push it too fast and should be full-go by January, 100 percent.”