For the second straight year, the Minnesota Twins will play the postseason without Justin Morneau.
The 2006 AL MVP hasn't played since July 7 because of post-concussion symptoms stemming from an inadvertent knee to the head during a slide into second base at Toronto. Morneau has begun to improve and hasn't had any recent setbacks, but general manager Bill Smith said Monday the team doesn't want to rush back its four-time All-Star first baseman.
Already ruled out for the first round of the playoffs, Morneau had hoped to be ready for the AL championship series or the World Series. But Smith said there's not enough time for him to return to full strength.
"To get him ready to play at the highest level he would have to be up and ready in two weeks, and that's just unrealistic," Smith said. "It's one thing to go out and take batting practice and groundballs, but he hasn't done any sliding, he hasn't taken any relays and he hasn't done some of the quick-reaction plays that go on in a game."
The Twins expect Morneau to join the team for the start of spring training. He will stop his workouts for the next two weeks, then slowly ramp them up again in his preparation for the 2011 season.
"By making this decision now and making it set in stone that we're done, then I can't keep trying to push myself when my body's not ready," Morneau told reporters at Target Field. He added: "If we just kind of eliminate the question marks now, hopefully when we get into November I can get on my regular workout program ... so we're completely ready for spring training."
Morneau was hitting .345 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs when he went down and still finished with the fourth-highest home run total on the team despite playing in only 80 games.
"I think the biggest thing the doctor said to me was, 'I'm confident you'll get better, confident you'll be ready for spring training, but if you go out there and get hit again I don't want you to be feeling like this when you're 50,'" Morneau said. "That's kind of what made me realize that there is the potential for this to carry on for a long time, and I think that's definitely what we're trying to avoid."
That's where the Twins were coming from, too.
"I think he understands it's the right decision for his health and for his long-term career," Smith said.
Last season, Morneau developed a stress fracture in his lower back and was declared done in mid-September. Like last year, the Twins have played well without him, with Michael Cuddyer moving from right field to first base and other hitters picking up the slack.
Morneau has been predictably frustrated to not be able to contribute to the pennant drive, but he said last week he has had just as difficult a time trying to explain what's wrong with him.
"Head injuries aren't like a broken wrist where you walk around with a cast on," Morneau said. "It's inside. It's pretty much how you feel. It's not something that shows up on an X-ray or anything like that. It's something that anybody who's been through it can know what it feels like, but it's hard to describe."