MINNEAPOLIS -- One of the primary goals for the Twins last offseason was to lock up first baseman Justin Morneau to a long-term deal. Having been unable to accomplish that objective, the Twins once again entered this winter with the hopes of signing Morneau to a contract that extends beyond the 2008 season. But so far it appears no progress has been made on that front.
"Like last year, I'm looking for a long-term deal if it makes sense for me," Morneau wrote in an e-mail to MLB.com this week. "However, no discussions [for one] have been had." While the Twins were able to sign catcher Joe Mauer to a four-year, $33 million deal last February, their attempts to negotiate long-term contracts with both Morneau and outfielder Michael Cuddyer proved unsuccessful. Morneau, instead, signed a one-year deal worth $4.5 million in his first year of arbitration -- a significant raise from the $385,000 he made during his 2006 American League MVP season. Now entering his second year of arbitration eligibility and following his second straight 30-plus home run and 100-plus RBI season, Morneau once again is expected to see a large jump in salary -- possibly netting $7.5 million if he goes to arbitration. Last week marked the start of the salary arbitration filing period. Both teams and players have until Tuesday to file their salary figure, and then the numbers will be exchanged on Jan. 18. The loss of Torii Hunter and the club's active pursuit of a trade for Johan Santana would appear to give the Twins plenty of flexibility in their payroll, at least for next year. After reaching close to $74 million last season, the Twins' payroll could drop below $50 million if Santana is moved. Speculation has been the extra room could be used to help ensure a long-term deal for Morneau, who turns 27 in May. At the end of last season, Morneau said he possibly would be willing to sign a five- or six-year deal with the Twins. But the question has become whether Morneau is as eager now to agree to that type of a contract. In his e-mail, Morneau expressed his interest in remaining in a Twins uniform. But he also hinted his willingness to sign a contract that extends beyond the 2010 season, after which he would become a free agent, could hinge on the team's plans for the future. Earlier this offseason, closer Joe Nathan stated he was paying attention to the Twins' moves before deciding if he wanted to remain in Minnesota. Nathan is in the final year of his contract with the team. Morneau is under the Twins' control through 2010, but he echoed some of Nathan's sentiments by saying he's watching the direction the club is taking now very closely. "No matter what happens, I'm going to be in a Twins uniform for the next three years unless I get traded," Morneau wrote. "But some moves they make or do not make may have some influence on a long-term deal into my first years of free agency." Youth movement: The Santana trade rumors heated up once again this week, with the news the Mets could be gaining in the race for the left-hander. No deal appears imminent, but it's raised the issue of just how young the Minnesota rotation could be in '08. The proposed offer by the Mets would give the Twins a group of talented pitching prospects, but no real pitcher ready to fill a void left by Santana. That's a concern, because beyond Santana, the Twins do not have a pitcher who has made more than 48 career starts. That means a lot of pressure will be placed upon the Twins catchers to help lead such a relatively inexperienced staff. "No question they are going to be very important for us this year," Twins general manager Bill Smith said of his two catchers. "We are going to have a young pitching staff, certainly a young starting rotation. The role of Mike Redmond and Joe Mauer is going to be critical for this club." That news is not surprising to Redmond, who said last week that he and Mauer already have had numerous discussions this offseason about the task ahead of them. "We know that even if Johan comes back, we are going to have our work cut out for us because we still have a lot of young guys," Redmond said. "I've been through that before. I've been on teams with all young pitchers, so I've got a feel for that. We'll just go out there, do the best we can and see what happens. Hopefully the guys that were here last year can build on what they accomplished, and we'll see if we can't win some ballgames." Spring is coming: Twins Spring Training single-game tickets officially go on sale Saturday at 8 a.m. CT. Tickets range in price from $12-22 and can be purchased on twinsbaseball.com or by calling 1-800-33-TWINS. Among the promotions announced for this year's games at Lee County Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla., are two Twins bobblehead days (March 6 and 26), a postgame fireworks show (March 20) and Minnesota Day (March 16), for which fans can tailgate outside the ballpark before the game. The Twins also will host four senior days (March 3, 11, 17 and 28), when fans 55 and older can receive one reserved game ticket, a hot dog and a soft drink for just $21. Twins tidbits: The Twins will kick off their 48th annual Winter Caravan on Monday with two legs heading to the western and southwestern areas of the Upper Midwest. More than 91 stops will be made in over 66 communities during the three-week event. ... Right-hander Juan Rincon pitched in eight regular-season games for the Cardenales de Lara of the Venezuelan Winter League. Rincon, who is coming off a disappointing 2007 season, had a 1.80 ERA over 10 innings while striking out nine and walking seven.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.