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Morneau arrives at Twins camp feeling healthy, eager to go

Associated Press

2/15/2013 3:28:33 PM

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- First baseman Justin Morneau arrived in Minnesota Twins camp Friday, three years removed from his first concussion, seven years away from his MVP season and entering the final year of his contract.

Now, he said, is not the time to discuss contracts.

"I think from their side and our side," Morneau said the day before the first full squad workout of spring training. "After the last few years, there has been some difficulties, injuries and those kinds of things. It's not something (negotiating) I'm interested in doing during the season anyway. I'll never say never. The future looks good. ... If there's a chance to win, I'd rather stay here."

Morneau, from New Westminster, B.C., signed a six-year, US$80 million contract in 2008 and it expires at the end of this season.

"Whatever it is it will take care of itself," Morneau said. "We'll see what happens then. I'll let all that stuff play out the way it plays out."

The Twins haven't played well the past two seasons. They posted winning records the first three years of Morneau's contract and won the American League Central in 2009 and 2010.

The Twins, though, are coming off back-to-back 90-plus loss seasons. Two of their speedy outfielders, Denard Span and Ben Revere, were traded away. The Twins have intriguing prospects such as outfielders Byron Buxton and Aaron Hicks, third baseman Miguel Sano and pitcher Alex Meyer in the farm system.

Morneau is eager to see how the team comes together with young players.

"It will be an opportunity hopefully for somebody to take advantage of it," Morneau said. "You hate to see guys go, especially quality guys like (Span and Revere) but I trust the decision-making."

Morneau was asked if this is a transition year to get the team back on track.

"It doesn't feel that way," said Morneau, who believes the team can be better than many are predicting.

"We've been picked to finish fourth before and we won the division," Morneau said. "We've been picked to finish third. . But nothing is guaranteed. Coming off 2010 (division title) we had obviously lost some guys but we still had a lot of the same guys here. It looked like we should have continued down that path and as quick as it goes that way it can go the other way but confidence with some young players and get some momentum going and you can take off in a hurry. Been around long enough to know that anything is possible."

Morneau, who has battled concussions since 2010, said he was able to go through a healthy off-season workout regimen. As the concussion symptoms have faded, Morneau has been able to work out more and he said he added eight or nine pounds over the winter.

"It was normal," Morneau said of his workouts. "I was able to do everything I needed to do. I feel prepared coming in."

Despite all the losses the past two seasons, it's traditional to be optimistic in spring training. Morneau pointed out that catcher Joe Mauer and left-fielder Josh Willingham return. Mauer hit .319 last year and Willingham bashed 35 homers and knocked in 110 runs.

Morneau likes the lineup.

"There's guys that drive in runs," he said. "There's speed at the top. There's a chance for this offence to score a lot of runs."

Morneau hit .267 with 19 homers and 77 RBI in 134 games last year. That wasn't at the same level as his MVP year of 2006, when he hit .321 with 34 homers and 130 RBI but it was an improvement over 2011 when concussion symptoms limited him to 69 games and he batted only .227 with four homers.

"I'm looking forward to him having a big year," Mauer said. "What he did last year, that was pretty impressive for me to see him do that. He's in a lot better place."

For now, as spring training gets cranked up, Morneau is looking forward to helping the Twins get back into contention with their division rivals.

"The other teams can do what they do and we'll take care of what we can do," Morneau said. "We should be right there with those teams."